Understanding How Regularly a Woman Should Get a Mammogram

Guidelines highlight need for an individualized approach

Mammography
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There is often confusion as to when a woman should start undergoing mammogram screening and how frequently the tests should be performed. Part of the confusion is due to differences in guidelines put forth by the American Cancer Society (ACS), the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

While each advocates the use mammograms in preventing the development of breast cancer, they differ slightly in how the screenings should be implemented.

American Cancer Society Guidelines

The American Cancer Society (ACS) states that women ages 40 to 44 have the option to begin yearly breast cancer screenings with a mammogram. They also advise women to discuss both the risks and benefits of a mammogram with their doctor prior the procedure.

Other ACS recommendations include:

  • Women between the ages of 45 to 54 should undergo a mammogram every year.
  • Women 55 and older can opt for a mammogram either annually or every two years after consultation with their doctor.
  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is expected to live at least 10 years or more.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Guidelines

The U.S Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women have a mammogram every two years between the ages of 50 and 74. They further state that screening can begin between the ages of 40 and 49 but only after weighing the benefits and consequences with a doctor.

Women with a  family history of breast cancer may aso explore screening between the ages of 40 and 49 given their higher risk of the disease.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Guidelines

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG) advocates for the use of mammogram screening starting at age 40 with annual screenings thereafter.

Understanding the Disparities in Guidelines

The decision as to when a woman should start screening for breast cancer is not as straightforward as other types of cancer. For one thing, the various interpretations of research have led to the disparities we see in the guidelines, with some organizations cautioning against risks that others seem somewhat less concerned about.

Secondly, a woman's individual risk factors (including family history, genetics, alcohol) will more directly impact the timing, frequency, and type of breast cancer screening to be used. For instance, a woman with a significant family history of breast cancer may not only need to start early but may require a breast MRI in addition to a mammogram.

As such, the guidelines should only be seen as that: guidance to help point in the right direction rather than setting hard-and-fast rules.

Take Home Message

Without question, mammograms are valuable tools essential to a woman’s good health. However, they are not fool-proof. Depending on your specific risk factors or symptoms, you may need additional testing even if your mammogram is normal, such as an ultrasound or MRI.

Ultimately, every woman is unique and, as such, require an individualized approach to determine when a mammogram is most appropriate.

If you believe you should be screened earlier due to risk factors that concern you — or want to delay beyond what some of the guidelines prescribe — speak with your doctor, ideally someone experienced in the field. If you are still concerned, consider getting a second opinion.

In this way, you can make an informed choice and become an advocate for your own care moving forward.

Sources

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