Cutting Through the Confusion: Mammogram Recommendations You Should Stick To

We already know that regular screening mammography saves lives, but the specifics get a little confusing. With differing recommendations coming from different professional groups, many women are uncertain about when to start screening and how often to be screened.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb to remember: If you’re 40 or older, you should have a mammogram every year, according to Cathleen Kim, MD, head of breast imaging at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.

“The benefits of screening do outweigh the risks,” Dr. Kim said. “Annual screening starting at age 40 in average risk women can allow us to catch cancer earlier, which not only means we have a greater chance of successfully treating the disease, but we are often able to use less aggressive treatments.”

The risks often cited when considering annual screening include false positives, over-diagnosis, radiation exposure, and increased anxiety for the patients. “It is important for women to be informed and to discuss these risks with their provider,” says Kim. “After reviewing all the data, we in the Lahey breast cancer multidisciplinary committee continue to support annual screening starting at age 40.”

Mammography Screening 

Statistics show:  

  • 30,000 women in their 40s are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
  • There is a 1 in 51 chance of getting breast cancer in your 40s.
  • 17 percent of cancer deaths occur in women diagnosed in their 40s.
  • Women diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s often have faster growing more aggressive tumors thus annual screening is important.
  • 75% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have NO family history

“Mammography isn’t perfect.” Kim said. “It won’t prevent all breast cancer deaths and it won’t detect all cancers. But it does detect most cancers and is the only breast imaging exam which has been shown to decrease breast cancer mortality by 30%.”

New technology like 3-D mammography – which allows doctors to view thinner slices of breast tissue for a clearer, more accurate picture – the risk of false positives is diminishing, and diagnosis of invasive cancer is improving.

Women should continue to be screened as long as they are in good health and are willing to act upon an abnormal screening exam.