The goal of regular mammograms is to reduce breast cancer-related death by early detection, when treatment is more effective and less harmful, experts say.
But the age of when to start routine mammograms and how frequently to get them has long been controversial.
Some of the latest studies done by a government task force show that mammograms do the most good later in life, and that women should get one every other year starting at age 50.
But other health groups, including specialists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, encourage women to get a mammogram every year starting at age 40.
That’s because about one in 69 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their 40s, experts said.
“When my sister, an internal medicine doctor, asked me the year she needed to start getting regular mammograms, I said 40,” said Dr. Quan Nguyen, an imaging specialist with the University of Texas Medical Branch. “That’s my strongest argument — that’s where we stand at UTMB.”
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and about 40,000 die from it.
It is most frequently diagnosed among women ages 55 to 65, and the median age of death from breast cancer is 68.
But that doesn’t exclude ages younger than that.
“I’ve seen women with cancers between ages 40-45,” Nguyen said. “If a woman feels something new or changing they should come in and see their doctor.”
Especially if there is a family history, he said.
“If your mom or sister had breast cancer, you should get a screening mammogram 10 years before they were diagnosed,” Nguyen said.
Which means if a woman’s mother was diagnosed at 45, the daughter should get screened at 35, he said.
It’s important that women know mammography is not perfect and it will not benefit all women equally.
“Mammography detects most, but not all breast cancers,” Nguyen said.
But getting that first screening beginning at age 40 is the most beneficial because a woman has more years left — more years to save, he said.
“The first mammogram is extremely helpful,” Nguyen said. “Because then, every mammogram after that, you have something to compare with.”Breast Cancer Facts and Figures
- Information courtesy of the American Cancer Society
- In 2015, an estimated 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the U.S.
- That same year, about 40,290 U.S. women will die from breast cancer. Only lunch cancer accounts for more cancer deaths in women.
- Breast cancer incidence rates are highest in non-Hispanic white women, followed by African American women and are lowest among Asian/Pacific women.