The Institute for Women's Health

It’s easy to be confused by the conflicting information regarding breast cancer screening mammograms. The recent release of new recommendations by the American Cancer Society (ACS) has raised even more questions. So how do these new guidelines affect a woman with an average risk of breast cancer?

Women under 45 years of age: Evaluate your risk

According to the new ACS guidelines, women under the age of 45 do not need to get regular screening mammograms if they are at average risk. This means that they do not have family, health, or lifestyle factors that significantly increase their risk. It is recommended that women in this age group regularly discuss their family history and any changes they notice with their OB/GYN.

Women 45 – 55 years of age: Yearly mammogram

Women at an average risk should begin yearly screening mammograms at age 45. The ACS altered their beginning recommended age from 40 to 45 after multiple studies found that preventative screenings of women who hadn’t previously detected a lump didn’t result in lower rates of breast cancer deaths overall.

Women over 55 years of age: Every other year

While women 55 or older previously were encouraged to get an annual screening, the ACS now recommends they transition to once every two years. Women should continue to get an annual screening if they have concerns or risk factors.

The bottom line

With the release of the new guidelines, the three key authorities on breast cancer issues – the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology – now have different recommendations.

The key thing to keep in mind is that every case is different. It’s important to communicate your family and health history to your OB/GYN so that he or she can determine what level of risk you may be facing. For women with a high number of risk factors, screening mammograms should be conducted even at a much younger age.

It’s important to remember that breast cancer screenings begin with women being their own best advocates. Setting a monthly reminder to perform a self-breast exam and becoming familiar with the landscape of your breasts is key. While mammograms remain one of the most effective tools in detecting and preventing breast cancer, familiarity with your breasts can help detect any changes. If you notice anything different, be sure to talk to your OB/GYN.