For decades, the medical community has debated about exactly when and how often women should have mammograms to screen for breast cancer. What’s not up for debate, however, are two factors physicians and researchers know for sure:
- Mammograms are the single best way to detect breast cancer.
- Chances for survival rise dramatically the earlier breast cancer is detected.
Mammography screening technology has progressed substantially, and mammograms save countless lives by detecting breast cancer in the earliest, most treatable stages. Consider that before mammography screening became widespread in the 1980s, the rate of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. had not changed in 50 years.
However, since mammogram technology began in the ‘80s, studies have shown that:
- The U.S. breast cancer death rate has dropped 43%.
- Women have a 47% less risk of dying from breast cancer within 20 years of diagnosis if screened yearly compared to those who are not screened regularly.
The equation then seems straight-forward: If mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer and early detection saves lives, why aren’t the guidelines for when to start having mammograms and how often to have screening clear cut for everyone?
The short answer is that each patient’s health history varies, which impacts when and how often mammograms are recommended. It’s crucial, however, for every woman to have a clear understanding of when she should begin having mammograms, and how frequently she should schedule them.
Most recently, patients have been confused by guidelines published by the American College of Physicians (ACP) that recommend mammogram screenings for women begin at age 50 and continuing every two years until age 74.
A baseline mammogram at 50 and screening every two years is a departure from the traditional guidelines recommending women begin getting mammograms at the age of 40 and every year thereafter.
The ACP specifies that their new guidelines are only for women with average risk of breast cancer and with no symptoms, and are based on the theory that there’s a low incidence of breast cancer for women under age 60.
However, according to the American Cancer Society, almost half of all breast cancers and the majority of in situ cancers occur in women under the age of 60. Also, for non-white women, the rate of breast cancer incidence peaks in the late forties, according to the American College of Radiology.
The ACP also claims that mammography screening every other year, rather than annually, has little significant difference in mortality rates from breast cancer. However, there have not yet been any randomized, controlled trials to test and verify this claim.
However, a study published by the National Institute of Health shows nearly 40% fewer deaths in women age 40-84 who were screened annually compared to those screened bi-annually.
For these reasons and more, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, The American College of Radiology, and the Society of Breast Imaging continue to recommend that women begin mammogram screening starting at age 40 and receive mammograms each year thereafter.
Recommended Mammogram Guidelines:
The breast surgeons at Evansville Surgical Associates adhere to the American Society of Breast Surgeons guidelines for breast cancer screening, including:
- Women over age 25 should have a formal risk assessment for breast cancer by a breast physician or other qualified health provider by reviewing family history and overall health history.
- Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start yearly mammography screening at age 40.
- Women with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer should have yearly mammography screening at an initial age determined based on risk, and be offered yearly supplemental imaging, such as MRI as recommended thereafter.
- Screening mammography should continue yearly as long as life expectancy is more than 10 years.
If you are age 40 or older, please follow the recommendations to get a mammogram each year beginning at age 40. And if you have a family history of breast cancer, talk with your primary care physician or an Evansville Surgical Associates breast surgeon for recommendations about mammography depending on your age, your family history, and your overall health.
Breast Cancer Expertise
The surgeons and specially-trained staff at Evansville Surgical Associates treat all aspects of breast cancers as well as benign breast conditions at both the Deaconess Midtown and St. Vincent-Evansville Breast Centers. Our dedicated breast physicians include Dr. Joshua M. Aaron, Dr. Mallory S. Bray, Dr. Matthew S. Field, Dr. Kristi K. Peck, Dr. Brian W. Schymik and Dr. W. Matthew Vassy.
With the most advanced breast health techniques and treatments in digital mammography, diagnostic ultrasound, breast MRIs, and stereotactic and ultrasound guided needle biopsy capabilities, our breast surgeons and navigators work closely with medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and plastic surgeons to ensure that each patient receives the best care possible.
Established in 1969, Evansville Surgical Associates celebrates 50 years of providing leading-edge comprehensive and compassionate surgical care. Learn more about our physicians and our practices by visiting our website, or by calling us at 812.424.8231 or 800.264.8231.