When should I get a mammogram?

October 21, 2015 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

In October 2015, the American Cancer Society issued new guidelines for mammograms that differed slightly from their previous recommendations.

Women facing an average risk -- meaning they have no family history of breast cancer or other risk factors -- can wait until age 45 to start mammograms, but should have the option to start at 40, the guidelines say. Annual mammograms should continue until age 55, when women may begin screenings every other year. Women should continue screening while they are healthy and likely to live another 10 years, the society recommended.

Women who start mammograms at age 45 are less likely to get false-positive results, which could lead to unnecessary treatment, the society said.

But how do you know if you should wait until you’re 45 to start screenings?

Other organizations offer different recommendations. The American College of Radiology and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommend mammograms starting at age 40.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms beginning at age 50, but states women in their 40s should be able to get the screenings if they choose to.

So – what now?

Patients should talk to their doctors about mammograms, said Dr. Joseph Kash, a hematologist and oncologist with Edward Hematology Oncology Group.

The ACS guidelines don’t say average-risk women should not get screened at age 40, nor do they say you have to switch to biannual screenings after age 55, Kash pointed out. It’s the patient’s personal choice.

“When you get to age 45 to 55, the incidence of breast cancer starts to go up more significantly, so the absolute number of people you’re going to help through screening will be bigger,” Kash said. “But mammograms work in ages 40 to 45. A number of studies have proven that women in that age range decrease their risk of dying of breast cancer by screening.”

Women must decide whether they want to face the chance of a false-positive result and get screened, or wait until they’re 45 to get a mammogram.

“There’s clearly anxiety associated with false-positives,” Kash said. “Women who go through callbacks and biopsies – for some, it’s a terrifying process.”

For others, it’s not so scary, he said. The benefit of potentially catching breast cancer in its early stages is worth it to them.

Ultimately, the decision to begin screening is a choice a woman should make after talking about it with her doctor.

Learn more about the Edward-Elmhurst Health breast center.

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