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What are the guidelines for breast cancer screening?

Dr. Amanda J. Morehouse, MD
Critical Care Surgeon

Recommended breast cancer screenings and frequency of screenings vary based on a variety of factors, including a woman’s age and family history. For example, it is recommended that all women between the ages of 45 and 54 schedule an annual mammogram. However, beginning at age 55 mammograms are recommended only every other year. For younger women who are between the ages of 40 and 44, most experts would suggest that patients should practice caution and seek their primary care physician’s guidance. At any age, breast cancer treatments are more effective when identified at the earliest stage of development.

 

Genetics is a significant determinant of when and how often a woman should receive her annual mammogram. Most oncologists suggest that in situations where there is a family history of breast cancer, screenings should begin at minimum 10 years prior to the age of the youngest family member who was diagnosed. Please note that in the case of a genetic mediated cancer, the age that screenings should begin will be based on the type of gene and the breast surgeon’s recommendation.

The national cancer advisory organizations sometimes do not agree about specific cancer guidelines, often making it confusing to the public about what to do. That is why you should err on the side of caution by always consulting a healthcare professional to help advise you about what to do, given your personal family health history.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all women ages 40-50 consult with their doctor to decide if screening is appropriate. USPSTF guidelines also recommend that women begin routine screening for breast cancer with mammography at age 50. This is the guideline that most women should follow, as it is largely based on medical evidence that screening will result in more good than harm.

Other guidelines differ. Patients should discuss their risk for breast cancer and the possible benefits and uncertainties of screening with their doctor before being screened.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.