For many years, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommended annual mammograms for women starting at age 40, but in October 2015, they issued new recommendations that were more in line with those of medical experts. They now recommend that women at average risk of breast cancer start mammography at age 45, that they undergo annual mammograms from 45 – 54, and continue to undergo mammography every other year after that.
Some experts have suggested that screening mammograms do more harm than good, because there is no evidence that they save lives or result in less radical surgery. Experts do not recommend MRIs for screening women of average risk, but clinical studies are being done to determine whether they should be.
With various recommendations, it can be confusing. When should you begin getting mammograms? The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an expert group that reviews the latest research findings, recommends that mammography screening for most women start at age 50 rather than 40, and that the frequency be every two years (instead of annually) through the age of 74.
The Task Force is widely considered the gold standard for determining medical treatment and screening. In this case, they recommended raising the age to 50 after the American College of Physicians recommended the same thing, and they also recommended that women continue to undergo mammograms until age 74. They say that there is no evidence of what the benefits might be for women 75 and older.
Things to Remember:
Any of these recommendations are for screening mammograms. Mammograms are still needed at almost any age if a lump is found. The mammography recommendations also do not apply to all women, only for the average woman. Experts agree that women at especially high risk of breast cancer, such as those with mothers or sisters who had breast cancer, may want to start mammograms between the ages of 40 and 50 or in rare cases, even earlier.
The bottom line is that mammograms have the potential to help detect breast cancer earlier.