Is It Time For My Mammogram?

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast. They are a screening tool for breast cancer. They also help determine why you may be experiencing a lump, nipple discharge, breast pain, dimpling of the breast skin, or a retracted nipple.

You may have heard conflicting news about when to have your first mammogram and how often to repeat the screening. In recent years the recommendations have changed, and not everyone agrees. But major health care groups do agree on this: Mammograms help find breast cancer early, when it is more likely to be curable. As always, talk with your doctor, who knows you best, about a mammogram schedule that’s right for you.

Recommendations By Age

While the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have slightly different recommendations, they agree that mammograms save lives. Here’s what they suggest: 

Younger than 40 

The American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force agree: Mammograms are not recommended if you’re younger than 40 unless you are at a higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer (see details below).   

Age 40 to 49 

The American Cancer Society guidelines state that women ages 40 to 44 “should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.” They recommend getting a mammogram every year beginning at age 45. 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, on the other hand, recommends that “women who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms (of mammography) may choose to begin biennial (every-other-year) screening between the ages of 40 and 49.” 

Age 50 to 54 

Mammogram Screening Guidelines small

The American Cancer Society recommends a mammogram every year from age 50 to 54.  

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends every-other-year mammograms beginning at age 50. 

Age 55 to 74 

The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend every-other-year mammograms. 

Age 75 and older

The American Cancer Society recommends every-other-year mammograms “as long as you are in good health and are expected to live 10 more years or longer.” 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states “current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening mammography in women age 75 and older.” 

Mammograms help find breast cancer early, when it is more likely to be curable.

What If Your Risk Is Higher Than Average? 

Some women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This includes women who: 

  • Have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer or with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
  • Received radiation of the chest area between the ages of 10 and 30 

In these instances your doctor may suggest getting mammogram screenings at a younger age, or more often than the above recommendations. Your doctor also may suggest routine MRI breast screenings in addition to mammograms.  

What If Your Breast Tissue Is Dense? 

Having dense breast tissue isn’t uncommon or abnormal, but your doctor may want to adjust your screening guidelines. If your mammogram indicates your breast tissue is dense, check with your doctor for any further recommendations.

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