There’s a lot of online information and advice — sometimes contradictory — on when women should start annual screening mammograms, how often they should return and when they should stop. A variety of factors can affect how breast health expert guidance applies to you. The more you know, the better you can make decisions, along with your physician, to determine what’s best for you.
When Should I Start Mammograms?
A number of clinical guidelines — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging, to name a few —recommend screening mammography starting at age 40 for women who have no current breast concerns or issues.
Charlotte Radiology follows these guidelines along with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s (NCCN) mammography guidelines in supporting the following:
- Healthy women between the ages of 25 and 39 with no risk factors for breast cancer should see their healthcare provider every one to three years for regular breast cancer risk assessments, including breast exams. Additionally, historical guidance recommends conducting monthly self-exams to be “breast aware” and have physical breast examinations performed by their doctor at their annual checkup. Being familiar with your breasts helps you identify anything outside of normal that may require more attention.
- All women ages 40 and older should continue physical breast examinations during their well visits, including breast cancer risk assessments and breast exams, and screening mammograms (preferably 3D mammograms) every year. Annual mammograms starting at age 40 help physicians monitor changes in breast tissue that naturally occur year to year and help detect cancers earlier — up to two years before a lump can be felt and when they can be more effectively treated.
- Women with a family history of breast cancer and/or women who have known risk factors should start mammograms before age 40, ideally by age 30, to establish a baseline for screening. Breast cancer risk assessment should begin by age 25.
If a woman is experiencing breast symptoms such as a palpable lump, discharge or change in appearance, she should consult with her physician immediately and get a referral for a diagnostic mammogram so that a diagnosis can be determined, regardless of age.
When Should I Stop Mammograms?
Breast health expert guidelines also recommend women continue to have annual mammograms through their 50s, 60s and 70s. Why? Because breast health changes as we grow older, and the risk for breast cancer increases with age and with the many changes in our bodies, including hormones and breast density.
The median age of breast cancer diagnosis is 62 years old — and most cases are diagnosed in women aged 50 and older — so continuing receiving an annual screening mammogram is the best way to monitor your breast health and any changes in breast tissue that may need to be addressed early on. All expert guidance recommends you discuss your breast health with your physician at your annual well visit so you can decide what’s best for you given your age, health history, stage in life, and any personal preferences or needs.
Most guidelines state that continuing to receive a mammogram after age 75 is a personal decision a woman should make in collaboration with her healthcare provider, particularly for breast cancer survivors.
Life expectancy plays a major role in determining whether women 75 and older should continue having mammograms, as well as considerations around overall health, quality of life, and tolerance for potential side effects of any treatments a patient may be undergoing for cancer or other health conditions.
All these factors need to be weighed in determining continued breast surveillance options. Research indicates that life expectancy can be improved by continuing with screening mammograms after age 69, and according to the United States Preventive Services Taskforce, benefits of screening mammograms have been proven up to age 74. If you’re over 75 and unsure about whether to continue with annual screening mammograms, talk with your doctor.
Prioritize Your Mammogram for Your Best Breast Health
At Charlotte Radiology, we know every woman has a unique risk profile for developing breast cancer in her lifetime. We are your partners in care and are here to work with you and your doctor to develop and maintain a long-term strategy for your best breast health.
Charlotte Radiology provides comprehensive screening and diagnostic breast health services to more than 130,000 women each year. Our board-certified physicians are subspecialized in breast imaging and procedures and have been providing expert, compassionate care for over 50 years.