Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Regular screening can help to detect tumors at an early stage when they are most treatable. Several methods are available for screening, including mammography, an imaging test that is especially effective at detecting breast cancer several years before symptoms develop. A number of organizations have published guidelines recommending when women should begin having screening mammograms, some of which disagree. Women should talk to their health care providers to help them decide when they should begin screening.
Recommendations: Women in their 30s
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends a breast exam by a health professional about every 3 years as part of a regular health exam.
- Breast self-exams are also an option, according to ACS, and women should report any changes they feel in their breasts to their health care provider.
Recommendations: Women in their 40s
- ACS as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend annual screening for those of average risk as follows:
- Beginning at 40 years of age, women should have a mammogram and breast exam by a health professional each year.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation for those of average risk is as follows:
- Under age 50, the decision when to start regular screening mammography should be an individual one, taking into consideration such factors as a woman's risk tolerance.
The recommendations above are for women without known risk factors for breast cancer. If you have an increased risk, you should develop an individualized screening program with the guidance of your doctor. The ACS link below provides a list of factors that can increase the risk of breast cancer, including genetic predisposition and family or personal history of breast cancer. ACS recommends that women at high lifetime risk be screened with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammography annually beginning at age 30.
Sources Used in Current Review
American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2012. PDF available for download at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-030975.pdf through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed July 2012.
American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/FindCancerEarly/CancerScreeningGuidelines/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed July 2012.
National Guideline Clearinghouse. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Breast cancer screening. Washington (DC): American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG); 2011 Aug. 11 p. (ACOG practice bulletin; no. 122). Available online at http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=34275 through http://www.guideline.gov. Accessed July 2012.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). 1) Screening for breast cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. 2) December 2009 addendum. Ann Intern Med 2009 Nov 17;151(10):716-726, W-236.