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Mammogram (cont.)

When should I get a screening mammogram?

Early screenings through mammography and specialized training of breast radiologists are allowing doctors to detect early breast cancer when treatment can be most successful.

Mammography may detect over 85% of breast tumors, and results are still better if the screening is conducted along with a physical examination. It is clear that screening women older than 50 years reduces the number of deaths from breast cancer. However, in women younger than 50 years, breast X-ray screening offers a very small, if any, benefit. Doctors don't always agree on when to have a baseline mammogram or who should be screened and when, and guidelines from reputable medical societies differ in their recommendations:

  • The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends against routine screening of women under age 50 and screening mammography every 2 years from ages 50-74.
  • The American Cancer Society issued new guidelines in October 2015 about mammography, stating that most women should begin yearly mammograms at age 45, and at age 55 start having mammograms every other year.
  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Radiology recommend annual screening mammograms starting at age 40.

A discussion with the patient's primary care doctor about when the patient should get routine screening is helpful to clear confusion about annual mammogram screening because of the disparity in recommendations. It is a real advantage to diagnose breast cancer at an early stage, in a phase in which it is possible to remove a small part of the breast only, with high likelihood of cure.

Women with a personal or family history of breast tumors must work with their physicians to develop a screening program appropriate for the individual situation. However, breast tissue in younger women (younger than 30 years) tends to be denser, and this makes it more difficult to detect small changes in the breast on a mammogram.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/23/2015

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