When should I start getting mammograms
Caroline Cranford, MD, is a radiologist specializing in breast imaging on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (623) 931-7999.
Question: I’m a 39-year-old woman and I have to admit to being confused about when to begin having routine mammograms. What are the current recommendations for mammogram screenings?
Answer: The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force’s recent recommendations for screening mammography seem to have generated a bit of controversy and confusion as to when women should begin having routine mammograms.
In 2009, the task force recommended against mammograms before the age of 50 and stated that women 50-74 years old should be screened every two years. This recommendation is a change from the 2002 statement, which supported mammography screening annually or every two years for women 40 and older.
Despite these recommendations, many medical professional organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, and the American College of Radiology, continue to advocate routine mammograms for women starting at the age of 40.
The task force acknowledged that mammograms reduce the breast cancer-related deaths in women 40 years and older. Yet, research also suggests that women under the age of 50 have a higher chance of having a false positive result, which can result in additional medical visits, unnecessary tests, biopsies, and treatments, as well as increased anxiety.
Studies have shown that routine mammograms have helped decrease the death rate from breast cancer by 30%. As with all screening tests, however, there are potential risks, such as misdiagnosis and overtreatment. Ultimately, the decision of when to get a mammogram needs to include a thorough assessment of the potential benefits and risks, review of family history by a healthcare provider, and consideration for patient preference.
If you have questions or concerns as to when you should begin mammogram screenings, talk openly with your healthcare provider. Your provider can communicate the potential risks of breast cancer and assist you in understanding those factors that could or should influence the decision of when mammograms ought to be performed.