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Q&A: Yearly Mammogram Guidelines

Q&A: Yearly Mammogram Guidelines

Mammogram guidelines – such as when you should have your first screening mammogram – can be confusing. We spoke to Priya Sareen, MD, imaging director of Breast Health Services at Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute, to understand current screening mammography guidelines.

Q: At what age does Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute recommend that women begin having a yearly screening mammogram?

A: Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute follows the American College of Radiology and recommends that women have a mammogram every year, from age 40 through 74 and beyond. However, if you have a significant family history of breast cancer (like a mother, sister or daughter), Sareen says you may need to start screening sooner. “You need to start screening 10 years prior to that cancer diagnosis in the family,” she says. “For example, if your mother was diagnosed at age 40, you need your first screening mammogram at 30.”

Q: Why is it important to start getting mammograms at age 40?

A: Even though age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer, most women do not really know what their risk is until they’ve had their first mammogram. Dense breast tissue raises the risk of breast cancer, and can be identified through a mammogram. “Remember, one in six women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are in their 40s,” she says.

Q: Is it okay to skip a year between screening mammograms?

A: Sareen stresses that mammograms need to be done annually. “Screening is not effective if you come in once every few years,” she says. “For us to pick up on subtle changes, you need to come in every year. Then we can see any slight changes earlier.”

Q: At what age can women stop getting annual mammograms?

A: The American College of Radiology doesn’t set an end point – and neither does Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute. “As a woman gets later in life, it’s an individual assessment she should make with her physician,” Sareen says. “As long as a woman has a significant amount of life left, she should get screened.”