Breast cancer is a leading cause of premature deaths among women in the United States. Nobody enjoys getting a mammogram, but statistics have shown the death rate of this disease has been reduced at least in part due to early detection. Your personal and family medical history can help determine whether you are at average risk or higher risk for breast cancer. It’s important to note, though, that most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
The goal of a mammogram is to find breast cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be successful. However, mammography is not without potential harms. For example, mammograms can sometimes find “abnormalities” that wind up being false positives or benign (harmless) – although it requires additional imaging and sometimes even a biopsy in order to come to this conclusion. Herein lies much of the controversy about when women should start getting mammograms and how often.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently updated its recommendations for breast cancer screening for women at average risk of breast cancer. Among its latest recommendations, the ACS suggests that all women should begin having annual mammograms as early as age 40-45, and then can adjust to having them every other year beginning at age 55. The ACS guidelines state that as long as a woman is in good health regular mammograms should be continued, and that breast exams – whether done by the patient or a medical professional – should be discontinued, given the low sensitivity and high false positive rate.
Even more recently, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) modified their recommendations from saying that women should get a yearly mammogram starting at age 40 to saying that whether or not a woman starts at 40 should be up to her and her doctor, but at the very least she should start at 50 and that a mammogram every other year is sufficient. Once again, these recommendations are for women at average risk of breast cancer.
In general, there is a movement to reduce the frequency of mammograms, as it appears that reducing the frequency helps reduce the risk of false positives without leading to increased mortality.
Talk to Your Doctor
The best way to know when to get a mammogram or how often to get screened is to talk to your medical provider. Understanding the benefits, risks, and limitations of mammography is crucial. To learn more about breast cancer screening, call Rockville Concierge Doctors at (301) 545-1811.