When to have your first mammogram

When to have your first mammogram

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) have mixed messages about when women should start having annual mammogram screenings, leaving many confused.

ACS Screening Guidelines:

  • Women should perform monthly breast self-exams (BSE) starting in their 20s and report any changes to their physician.

  • Clinical breast exams every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, and annually after age 40.

  • Yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.

USPSTF Screening Guidelines:

  • Mammograms every other year for average-risk women beginning at age 50 and ending at age 74.

  • Does not recommend teaching women how to perform breast self-exams.

Beverly Copelan, R.T.(R)(M), manager of the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center at Piedmont, says her group stands firm in following the ACS guidelines.

“In my 22 years of experience working in this field, I have seen the benefits of early detection, which include mammogram screenings starting at age 40. But women should not rely on mammograms alone. Routine clinical breast exams and breast self-exams are an important piece of the puzzle. Together they provide women the best chance of surviving breast cancer.”   

The USPSTF, a group of independent health experts called upon by the Department of Health and Human Services, was tasked with gathering and evaluating research comparing the expected outcomes under different screening scenarios.

Copelan says many healthcare professionals believe this group gathered insufficient evidence to justify a change in the guidelines and was quickly disregarded by many radiology groups. However, many mixed messages have leaked out through the media, leaving women asking for more information.

“Women should feel confident about the benefits associated with regular mammograms for finding cancer early. It is important for women to maintain open lines of communication with their doctors. Talk with your doctor about your personal risks based on your health history. Taking an active role in your health care and staying informed is an important part of healthcare management,” Copelan says.

Learn more about breast cancer screenings.


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