Breast health recommendations and what they mean for you
Should you get a mammogram at age 40? 50? Annually? Every two years? As major medical groups continue to refine their breast health recommendations, many women are still uncertain about when and how often they should be undergoing this valuable screening for breast cancer based on their risk of developing the disease.
“I often get asked ‘How often do I need to get a mammogram?’” says Dr Mary Cianfrocca, director of the Breast Cancer Program and medical director of the Clinical Cancer Genetics Program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Ariz.
The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute now have different guidelines than the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for mammograms, as well as for other preventive breast health screening steps.
The first thing to understand about any guidelines, say physicians, is that they are just a starting place. For example, none of the recommendations that suggest women have mammograms less frequently apply to those who are in a high-risk category or who have already been diagnosed with cancer of any kind.
A key thing to keep in mind is that your best chance of surviving breast cancer is from early detection. There is as much as a 96 percent chance for cure if it’s caught early.
“Regular screenings and just being watchful can literally help save your life,” explains Cianfrocca.
Here’s a look at some of the latest breast health screening guidelines and how they may apply to you.
Age 20: Clinical breast exams are recommended starting at this age every one to three years. This can be scheduled at the time of or just before your regularly scheduled mammogram.
Age 40: This milestone birthday is the time to start scheduling annual mammograms and clinical breast exams. Women should continue with this routine as long as they are in good health. Also, keep in mind to have “breast self-awareness.” Any changes should be reported to your physician.
Family history definitely plays a role in adding to your risk factor. You should discuss what cancers are in your family as well as your ethnicity. In particular, if your mother, sister or daughter has breast and/or ovarian cancer, your chances of developing breast cancer are significantly higher.
Still, a majority of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
“Hereditary cancers are much less common than people may think,” says Cianfrocca. “Not having a family history certainly doesn’t mean you are not at risk. If you’re a woman, there is always that chance of being diagnosed. And the risk goes up with age, particularly after 50.”
Some women put off mammograms because of their worries about radiation. But the amount of radiation for one mammogram is far less than radiation levels you are exposed to during one cross-country flight.
“A simple mammogram is one of the best ways to keep track of your breast health,” adds Cianfrocca.
Five breast cancer risk factors:
- Aging: Most cases occur in women 50 or older
- Family history: Breast and/or ovarian cancer, especially your mother, sister or daughter.
- Hormones/childbirth: If you had your first period before age 12, began menopause after age 55, never had children or had your first child after age 30, you are at greater risk. Postmenopausal use of hormonal therapy also increases your risk.
- Previous biopsy: Abnormal breast biopsy results or benign breast diseases requiring biopsies.
- Education/socioeconomic status: Women with a higher socioeconomic status and/or education tend to have fewer children and start childbearing after age 30. Both factors put them at higher risk.
Breast Cancer survey
Complete this quick health survey to find out your chances of developing breast cancer.
Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center offers a full range of screening and diagnostic tools for detecting breast cancer at our outpatient Women’s Imaging Center. To schedule a screening mammogram, please call (480) 543-6900.