Everyone is unique in their health care needs, so there’s no “right” answer. Your family history, other health conditions, genetics, lifestyle, predisposition to certain risk factors, and many other things can influence your screening needs. In general, most physicians will recommend that mammograms start between age 40 and 50, and that they are done every or every other year. However, you should speak with your physician to determine the best course of action for you.
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Mammogram Screening Recommendations
It’s hard to make sense of all the information out there, so we’ve put together a simple list of screening recommendations from some of the most trusted and well-known health organizations.
Women age 50-74 should have a mammogram every two years. If breast cancer runs in your family, or you notice changes in your breasts, you should talk to your physician about beginning screenings before age 50.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women begin yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continue as long as they remain in good health. Some women may need earlier testing or additional testing such as MRIs depending on family history, genetics, and other factors.
AMA adopted a new policy in 2012 stating the women should have yearly mammograms starting at age 40.
The recommendation is for women age 50-74 to have mammograms every other year. Women should discuss the possibility of starting screenings earlier with their physician.
ACR recommends that women age 40 and older have an annual mammogram. Patients should speak with their physician about family history of breast cancer and other factors that may influence screening recommendations.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
While these general guidelines may accurately reflect the screening needs of some women, there are special circumstances that need to be considered when determining the best time for you to start getting mammograms. Some factors that could put you at higher risk for developing breast cancer include:
- Age – older adults have a higher risk of developing breast cancer
- Genetics – certain gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that are inherited by a parent can put you at higher risk
- Ethnicity – Jewish women of Eastern European decent are more like to inherit the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations; African-American women are slightly less likely to develop breast cancer than white women, but this is reversed in women under the age of 45; Asian, Hispanic and Native-American women have a lower overall rate of developing breast cancer
- Family History – you are more likely to develop breast cancer is a close blood relative has had breast cancer
- Benign Breast Conditions – a previous diagnosis of a benign breast issue may put you at higher risk for developing breast cancer
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding – women who go through childbirth, especially at a younger age, and those who breastfeed have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer
- Tobacco and Alcohol – heavy, long-term tobacco use and frequent alcohol consumption lead to a greater risk for breast cancer
- Exercise – women who exercise are less likely to develop breast cancer