Mammograms are a frontline defense in detecting breast cancer, but do you need a screening every year?
A mammogram is an X-ray used to identify signs of breast cancer. During a mammogram, different views of the breast are taken so that doctors have a more complete picture of a patient’s breast tissue.
Mammograms are used in two ways: screening and diagnosis. A screening mammogram is a preventive measure used to detect signs of breast cancer in a woman without symptoms. A diagnostic mammogram might involve extra imaging of breast tissue to help doctors see a more complete picture of the breast.
Is it time for a mammogram?
While recommendations about the frequency of breast cancer screenings can change or may even vary from one organization to another, experts generally agree that mammograms are an important tool for finding breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment can be more effective. If you have questions or concerns about when to start breast cancer screenings, your doctor can help you develop a plan that works best for you.
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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), recommends biennial (every two years) mammograms for women between the ages of 50 to 74. Women between the ages of 40 to 49, and at average risk of developing breast cancer, may decide individually whether or not to have a mammogram, according to the USPSTF.
The guidelines listed by the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend annual mammograms, starting at age 45, for women at average risk of developing breast cancer. For those 55 and older, the ACS advises screenings every year or every other year. Women with a higher risk of developing breast cancer — due to a family history, a genetic mutation or other conditions — should get a mammogram and an MRI every year, generally starting at age 30, according to the latest ACS guidelines.
“Mammograms are an essential tool for detection of early stage breast cancers,” says Jason Ye, MD, a radiation oncologist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC and an assistant professor of clinical radiation oncology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
“All major guidelines, including those from the USPSTF, ACS and the American Society of Breast Surgeons, recommend a patient have a discussion with her physician about mammograms starting at the age of 40, or earlier, in certain cases. By thoroughly going over family history and other risk factors, she and her doctor can come up with an informed and individualized decision on when to start screening for breast cancer.”
If you notice changes in your breasts, such as thickening, tenderness or if you feel a lump, you should see a physician as soon as possible.
by Heidi Tyline King
As one of the eight original National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, USC Norris at Keck Medicine of USC is one of the preeminent academic medical institutions in the country. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment, by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting https://cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.