Breast cancer screening: Mammogram guidelines

September 21, 2022

When should women start getting mammograms, and how often? Learn what experts say about mammogram guidelines!


A women reviewing mammogram breast cancer screening results with doctor

According to Breastcancer.org, an estimated 287,850 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2022. Although death rates from breast cancer continue to drop by roughly 1% a year, diagnosis and early detection are just as important as ever and mammograms can be a powerful aid in this effort. 

That's why raising awareness about the importance of breast cancer screening and mammograms has been vital as well. But while many now know the benefits of mammograms and early detection, there are often still questions about mammogram guidelines. 

When should women start getting mammograms? How often should they get a mammogram? What are the commonly accepted guidelines and best practices? With Breast Cancer Awareness month on the horizon, we'll discuss these questions and more. 

When should women start getting mammograms?


Although most resources recommend that women should begin regular screenings at the age of 50, some make the case that beginning mammogram screenings between 40 and 49 can be beneficial for some women.

The American Cancer society says that women aged 40 to 44 should have the choice to do so if desired, but states that women should have regular mammogram screenings starting at 45. Other organizations, such as The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians, say that the decision to screen with mammography should be an individual choice with the advice of a medical professional to help weigh the potential benefits and harms.

While there are differing opinions about when women should start getting mammograms, most clinics will offer mammograms beginning at age 40 should the individual choose to do so with the guidance of their doctor. 

For women younger than 40, most doctors advise against beginning mammogram screenings because most cancer is diagnosed in postmenopausal women. However, statistics from the CDC show that 11% of all breast cancers are found in women younger than 45. For this reason, research in the past several years suggests that some women under 40 with higher risk factors (such as personal and/or family history, genetic markers, and dense breast tissue) may benefit from mammogram screenings. That said, these findings have not yet changed the standardized recommendation of beginning at 40.

How often should you get a mammogram?


Similar to the guidelines for when women should receive their first mammogram, the guidelines for mammogram frequency differ based on a woman's age.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, women between the ages of 40 and 49 who choose to begin regular mammogram screenings should do so biannually (once every other year). However, the American Cancer Society says that "women aged 40 to 44 years should have the choice to start breast cancer screening once a year with mammography if they wish to do so," and that "women aged 45 to 49 years should be screened with mammography annually." 

For women aged 50 to 74, the recommendations are similar; women should receive annual or biannual (every other year) mammogram screenings. The American Cancer Society distinguishes further, saying that women aged 50 to 54 should be screened annually, but that women 55 should consider moving to a biannual routine. 

In summary, the general recommendations range between once a year and once every two years. However, at the end of the day, the best routine for you is one that you and your doctor develop based on your individual situation and needs.

When should you stop getting mammograms? 


We've discussed when women should begin mammogram screenings and how often they should schedule them, but is there a point at which experts recommend halting screenings altogether? As you might have guessed from our previous answers, the answer depends. 

Many resources recommend that women with average breast cancer risk profiles aged 75 and older should continue annual or biannual screenings provided they are generally healthy. However, because mammograms aren't without some level of risk, a woman and her doctor may determine that continuing to receive mammograms at this age is no longer the best course of action. As with most things, it is an individual choice to be made with the assistance of a medical professional. 

What are the benefits and risks of mammograms and breast screenings?


Mammograms are powerful tools for early detection and have been instrumental in reducing the deaths from breast cancer in women between the ages of 40 and 74. Simply put, the greatest benefit of mammogram screenings is that it routinely saves lives. However, they are not without some level of risk, despite their life-saving capabilities. 

Just like an x-ray taken to examine a potentially broken bone, mammograms expose patients to low levels of radiation. Over time and with repeated exposure, radiation does have the potential to cause cancer. Although this risk is very, very low, and although the risks "nearly always outweigh the potential harm from radiation exposure," it is still important for women to speak with medical professionals to determine the need for every x-ray or mammogram, according to Cancer.gov

You may have heard that mammograms can cause cancer to spread because of the compression involved in the procedure. This, however, is a myth

Other risks include false-negatives, false-positives, and overdiagnosis and overtreatment. False negative means that the mammogram doesn't detect cancer even though it is present, leaving the cells to grow and potentially delaying treatment. False negatives from mammograms occur in around 20% of cases

False positives inevitably result in further procedures, tests, doctor visits, and possibly more mammograms. In addition to the stress and anxiety caused, these extra procedures can be costly, time-consuming, and uncomfortable. 

Overdiagnosis occur when a mammogram screening detects a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) that actually doesn't pose a risk to the woman's life; although many cases of DCIS are dangerous and do need to be treated, that is not always the case. Unfortunately, doctors don't presently have a way to tell the difference, and so all cases of DCIS are treated even if they don't need to be. This is known as "overtreatment." 

When weighing the benefits and risks of receiving a mammogram screening, your doctor is your most valuable resource and should be consulted to help you decide what course of action is right for you. 

Updating breast cancer screening and mammogram guidelines


It's important to keep in mind that new research is being conducted all the time and new findings often inform updates to existing best-practices and guidelines. Your personal physician and healthcare staff can help keep you up to date and inform you of any new recommendations that are developed so that together, you can come up with a plan that is tailored to your individual needs.  

You can also consult and follow resources such as the National Cancer Institute, the CDC, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for information about the latest breast cancer and mammogram screening guidelines. 

Germania's Quote for the Cure


At Germania, we know that breast cancer impacts the lives of women and their families in communities across the world, including many Germania employees, agents, and policyholders. That's why each year, we participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month through our Quote for the Cure campaign. We work with our agents, communities, and great organizations to raise awareness and provide support in the fight against breast cancer. 

To learn more about Germania's Quote for the Cure campaign, read all about it on our dedicated page here

NOTICE: This article is based on the guidance of organizations like the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Preventative Task Force, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute, but is not meant to be medical advice. Consult your doctor or medical professional before making any decisions about your personal health. 

A doctor with a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon on her coat

For more information about Germania Insurance and our products, request a free quote online or reach out to your local Germania Authorized Agent today! 

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.

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