Important Mammogram Guidelines
The American Cancer Society estimates that 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2016. Mammograms are an important tool for finding breast cancer early when it is easiest to treat and the rate of survival is highest. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that looks for calcifications, masses, and abnormalities that may require the need for more testing to assess the presence of cancer.
While three key health organizations differ in their recommendations of what age to begin screenings and how often they should occur, they all agree that the most important thing is to have a conversation with your doctor to determine what is right for your particular situation. Family history, genetic factors, and knowledge of potential benefits and risks of the screening should inform your decision. Below are the general recommendations:
- Ages 40-44: Informed decision making with a healthcare provider
- Ages 45-54: Every year
- Ages 55 and older: Every two years, as long as the woman is in good health
- Age 40 and older: Every year, as long as the woman is in good health
- Ages 40-49: Informed decision making with a healthcare provider
- Ages 50-74: Every two years
The risk factors associated with breast cancer fall into two buckets: Factors you can control and others you can’t control. The risk factors you can control include diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and body weight. Unfortunately, there are also risk factors that are out of your control, including gender (breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than men), age (risk increases with age), genetics, family history, race and ethnicity, and having dense breast tissue. A person may have multiple risk factors and never develop breast cancer, while some diagnosed with the disease have no known risk factors. This is another reason having a conversation with your doctor about mammogram screenings is so important.
Most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the cost of mammogram screenings. Visit www.cancer.org to learn more about current research and ways you can get involved in the fight against breast cancer.