Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors
"Is mammography necessary for someone without a history of breast cancer?"
When should I start getting mammograms if there isn't a history of it in my family?
This question is currently the topic of some active debate among primary care physicians. Very recently, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) released updated guidelines that basically say that women without a strong family history of breast cancer should start getting yearly mammograms at age 50. This is an increase in age from their previous recommendations of screening occurring at age 40. The reason for this decision to begin screening later is a bit complicated. What we have found is that screening women between ages 40 and 50 did more harm than good on average. This is because mammograms can be harmful in a few ways. Number one, they use radiation to obtain the breast images. This probably increases the risk of developing cancer by a tiny amount. Second, between ages 40 and 50 any abnormality found on mammogram is more likely to be benign than cancer, but all abnormality must be biopsied. Thus, many women undergo unnecessary biopsies to rule out cancer. For these reasons, the USPSTF decided to change the age of screening. I suggest that you schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Likely, he or she has an opinion about when you should start getting mammograms. If your doctor follows the USPSTF guidelines, then you should start having annual mammograms at age 50. Your doctor may want you to start getting them at age 40. If this is the case, then you should ask your doctor to explain the potential risks and benefits of getting screened at that age.
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