At what age should I start having mammograms?

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Dr. Kathleen V. Greatrex, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

At 40, women should begin having a mammogram and a clinical breast exam each year.

For some women, yearly mammograms should begin earlier than 40:

  • Women with mothers or sisters who had breast cancer before reaching menopause should begin yearly screening by age 30, or 10 years earlier than the age of the youngest affected relative, whichever is later.
  • Women with the gene mutation BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive should begin annual mammography and breast MRI screenings by age 30.

If the mammogram shows anything that looks suspicious, more tests will be done to rule out or diagnose cancer.

Starting in their 20s, women should do breast self-exams monthly and a clinical breast exam with their doctor at least every three years.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Dr. Kelly J. Powers, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

Kelly Powers, MD, of Alaska Regional Hospital, says women should start having mammograms at age 40. Learn how often women need mammograms in this video.

Once a woman hits 40, she should think about getting started on her screening mammogram regimen. We used to say, across the board, every woman, start getting annual mammograms at 40. Now we know it really depends on what your breast cancer risk is. So it's important to talk to your doctor, find out what your risk is. You might need to start at 40, maybe you can start at 45, but definitely start thinking about it at 40.

The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this article have been compiled from a podcast and are for general information only.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911.This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Regina Epple
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Women should learn to do self breast examinations and get clinical breast exams on a annual basis after the age of 21. Watch this video to learn more about obstetrics and gynecology from Regina Epple, APNP, at Citrus Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Anne C. Hoyt, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

Screening guidelines for mammography have been subject to a lot of controversy, and screening mammography remains the most studied screening test in the world. Several major organizations recommend routine annual screening mammography to begin at age 40. There’s no longer a recommendation for a baseline mammogram at age 35; however, for some women who are particularly high risk, imaging starts early.

Stacy Contreras
Body Imaging Specialist

Women should start getting mammograms to screen for breast cancer at age 40. In this video, Stacy Contreras, director at Good Samaritan Hospital’s Breast Care Center, discusses the age recommendations and guidelines for mammograms.

The American Cancer Society has come out with new recommendations regarding screening mammography for breast cancer. They recommend starting regular screening at age 45, yearly screening from 45 to 54, and screening every 2 years after that. They also discourage self and in-office breast exams. I have to strongly disagree. I understand their concerns about the stress and distress of false positives. However, as a clinician who has cared for women for the last 30 years, I don’t get it. I also don’t understand their recommendations when it comes to eliminating the in-office breast exam.

Starting mammography at the age of 45 years means that we will be missing the aggressive cancers found in younger women. I have diagnosed many in this group. They were not the kind that would lay dormant either. These were inflammatory cancers that had a high likelihood of metastasizing. I am happy with screening yearly between the ages of 45 and 54. But, why would we screen every two years in older women? The chance of breast cancer goes up, not down as we age. As far as the exam, I have picked up many cancers that were quite large that patients did not notice.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has a similar opinion to mine. I believe they feel the same way as I do, because those who belong to the organization have most likely saved many lives as a result of examination and screening.

“ACOG maintains its current advice that women starting at age 40 continue mammography screening every year and recommends a clinical breast exam. ACOG recommendations differ from the American Cancer Society’s because of different interpretation of data and the weight assigned to the harms versus the benefits.”

That is why my recommendations stand.

In this video, I will explain when women should start having yearly mammograms.

Dr. Janine L. Carson, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

The age at which you should begin having regular mammograms depends on your risk for developing breast cancer. In this video, Dr. Jan Carlson, MD, describes the guidelines that most women should follow.

Dr. Alice Domar
Psychology Specialist

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that most women wait to begin screening mammography until age fifty. For most women in their forties who do not have a family history of breast cancer, waiting until fifty is fine. If you do have a family history of breast cancer, however, you should consider starting at age forty and having mammograms every year or two thereafter. Family history is usually taken to mean breast cancer in a close relative, but this can be a complicated topic.

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Every year, women age 40 and over should have a screening mammogram. Mammograms detect cancer early and have been shown to decrease the chance of death due to breast cancer. Regardless of your risk or your health, a mammogram needs to be part of your yearly physical.

The importance of starting mammogram screening at age 40 was affirmed at a meeting of the American College of Surgeons, usually attended by over 8,000 surgeons annually. Breast cancer screening is essential for detecting breast cancer early. The US Preventive Services Task Force, allied with public health and primary care advocates, used a British study to question the value of screening at age 40, but there were some shortcomings in the study and most breast specialists in the United States today still recommend the first screening mammogram at age 40.

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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.