Making Sense of Mammography Guidelines

Having worked in the breast health field for more than 20 years and counting, women often ask me how often they should have their mammogram. Breast cancer awareness is frequently in the news and, at times, conflicting messages are reported. Guidelines to other women’s health screenings have changed over the years, which add to the confusion regarding mammography.

Schedule Annual Screenings

Mammography is the standard screening test for early detection of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society, along with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society of Breast Surgeons, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging continue to recommend annual screening mammography to start at age 40. Should a woman younger than 40 feel she may be at an increased risk for breast cancer, she should consult her health care provider to determine the most appropriate age to begin screenings.

Importance of Self-Exams

Mammography should continue annually as long as the woman is in overall good health. Any decision to stop at an older age should be based on a discussion with that woman’s health care provider. The occurrence of breast cancer increases with age and statistics show that one in eight American women will develop breast cancer sometime in her lifetime.

In addition to an annual clinical breast exam by a provider, it is important to be familiar with how your breast tissue normally feels so you are better equipped to notice changes to report to your physician.

Health screening guidelines do change from time to time, but annual mammograms starting at age 40 remain the same and it is a proven life-saving tool.

By Jill Schultz

Director of Breast Health at Avera McKennan

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