How often should older women have mammograms?

Dr. Kathleen V. Greatrex, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

Women should get routing mammograms to help reduce their risk of death from breast cancer. A study found that women who had regular mammograms reduced their risk of death from breast cancer by 37 percent. Mammograms can help detect breast cancer at an early stage, when it is most treatable. It doesn't hurt, takes only about 20 minutes and most importantly, can save your life.

Some women resist getting a mammogram because they don't feel a lump. It's a good idea to know how your breasts normally look and feel so you can alert your doctor if anything changes, as well as have regular check-ups. But these methods have limits. A mammogram can detect cancers that cannot be felt.

All women have the potential to get breast cancer. Early diagnosis means survival. That's the bottom line.

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Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in American women. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, before it can be felt and when it is easier to treat. If you're 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start getting mammograms. If you're 50 to 74 years old, get a screening mammogram every two years.

Although many breast changes are first detected during self-examination, mammography (the procedure used to generate a mammogram, which is an x-ray image of the breast) is important because in its earliest stages breast cancer may not be palpable; it may be too small to feel as a lump or tissue change. Mammography can help detect these changes two years or more before you would feel them.

Dr. Alice Domar
Psychology Specialist

This is not as simple a question as it once was. The old guidelines of yearly mammograms after age 40 for women at risk and from age 50 for women not at risk have been challenged in the past few years. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus at the current time amongst different medical organizations. This is one of those situations where every woman needs to sit down with her physician, review her own family history, factor in her past and current breast health and density, and proceed based on those contributing factors. For some women that might mean her first mammogram at age 50 and then every two years after that, and for others it might mean yearly mammograms starting at age 40 or 50.

Live a Little!: Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health

Dr. Suzanne B. Gilberg-Lenz, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Routine mammograms are vital to the early detection of breast cancer. While the American Cancer Society has released new guidelines for breast cancer screening, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not support the new screening guidelines and has maintained its support of the recommendations I describe in the following video.

Many women are told they do not need mammograms when they get older. Unfortunately, some women are even told this by misinformed doctors. In fact, quite the contrary is true.

Routine screening is important, Lawrence Bassett, MD, section chief of the Iris Cantor Center for Breast Imaging, says, because breast cancers that go untreated for a long time are more likely to metastasize to other parts of the body. Mammography screening aims to find breast cancers before they are large enough to be detected in a clinical exam. Older women face a higher risk of getting breast cancer and should get screening mammograms yearly.

Dr. Janine L. Carson, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

In many cases, early detection of breast cancer offers the best chance for a cure. In this video, Dr. Jan Carlson explains why mammography is better than other detection methods.

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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.