Each year, new research adds to the already contentious debate over mammography to detect breast cancer. Respected national organizations have differing guidelines on when to begin mammogram screenings and how often to repeat them. It's easy to understand why women would be uncertain about this health-care decision.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Radiology, and Society of Breast Imaging recommend annual mammograms for women at average risk of breast cancer, starting at age 40. The American Cancer Society says screening should begin at age 45, with women having the choice to start at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there’s no need for regular screenings until age 50—and then every two years.
At what age to begin and how often to have a mammogram has become one of the most emotional and politically charged medical issues of the day.
The Consistent Recommendation: Talk to Your Doctor
While not all organizations agree on breast cancer screening guidelines, most share one very important recommendation: meet with your doctor to determine the right course of action for you. Your doctor can offer balanced, up-to-date information on the benefits and limitations of routine mammograms, and discuss your personal risk for breast cancer. You can also talk about the role of breast self-exams which may help you identify abnormalities or changes. Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision and feel confident about your choice.
Reviewing Changing Evidence
Some randomized trials of women in their 40s and 50s show that screening mammograms decrease breast cancer deaths by 15 to 29 percent. Other studies have indicated that annual mammograms in women aged 40 to 49 don't reduce deaths from breast cancer more than regular physical examination and routine care.
Doctors at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and across the nation continually review new studies about mammogram guidelines as the collective medical community seeks to understand what the findings could mean for women's health.
The Bottom Line
Although mammography isn't perfect, remember this: Mammography is still the best breast cancer screening tool available. Schedule your mammogram here.