Mammogram guidelines can be confusing. From one organization to another, there are conflicting recommendations on what age a woman should start getting mammograms at, how often to receive them, and when they are no longer needed. For older women, it’s difficult to find any recommendations at all.
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we are sharing the guidelines suggested by the major breast cancer screening organizations.
American Cancer Society Guidelines on Breast Cancer Screenings
The American Cancer Society recommends women adhere to the following mammogram screening schedule:
- Women between the ages of 40 and 44 should consider having mammograms each year.
- By age 45, all women should begin having an annual mammogram.
- Women age 55 and older can continue to have an annual mammogram or switch to a mammogram every other year.
- As long as a woman is in good health and expected to live 10 or more additional years, she should continue having mammograms at least every two years
Women with a family history of breast cancer or other genetic markers may need to have additional testing, such as an ultrasound or MRI.
The National Cancer Institute has adopted these same guidelines as those outlined by the American Cancer Society.
U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) Mammogram Guidelines
The recommendations from the USPSTF differ, however. This organization believes that women between the ages of 50 and 74 benefit most from mammograms, but they recommend only a biennial (or every other year) screening.
USPSTF members say that mammograms are most effective for women between the ages of 60 and 69. The task force agrees with other breast cancer screening agencies that the lack of evidence citing the benefits or drawbacks of mammograms in women over age 75 makes science-based guidelines impossible.
The USPSTF evokes the most debate with its recommendation for younger women. They recognize that screening mammography in women between the ages of 40 and 49 may reduce their risk for dying of breast cancer. However, they believe the number of deaths averted is small and the number of false positive results from mammograms that result in unnecessary biopsies is high during these years. For young women and their loved ones, delaying mammograms may not be an acceptable risk.
Women with a family history of breast cancer, the BRCA gene, or other risk factors should follow their doctor’s orders on when to begin screening and how often to be screened.
To learn more about breast cancer, including potential prevention methods and common warning signs, read our article, “Breast Cancer Awareness in October.”