With changes in mammogram guidelines, I'm not sure when to begin breast cancer screening. What does Mayo Clinic recommend?
Answer From Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.
At Mayo Clinic, health care professionals offer mammograms starting at age 40. Most people should have a mammogram every year.
When you should begin mammograms for breast cancer screening is something for you and your health care team to consider.
Mayo Clinic recommends that you talk with your doctor or health care professional. That person can help explain the pros and cons of mammograms. Together you can decide what is best.
Mammograms lower the risk of dying of breast cancer
Mayo Clinic supports screening starting at age 40 because screening mammograms can find breast cancer early. Finding cancer early makes it easier to cure. Studies show that using mammograms for breast cancer screening can lower the risk of dying of breast cancer.
Starting mammograms at age 40 may be particularly important for Black women. Black women tend to have breast cancer at a younger age. Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer, compared to people of other races.
Mammograms aren't perfect
Mammograms for breast cancer screening have some limits. The main concern is the chance of a false-positive result. This means that something is found on a mammogram, but, after more testing, it turns out to not be cancer. False-positives are more likely to occur in your 40s and 50s.
If an area of concern is found on a mammogram, you might need more testing. Health care professionals often recommend more mammogram images. Sometimes ultrasound imaging is used.
In certain situations, you may need to have a procedure to remove a sample of breast tissue for testing. This is called a biopsy. These other tests have some minor risks.
Some people feel frustrated that they had to undergo these other tests. Others feel reassured when they find out that there's no cancer.
Talk with your health care team
The medical groups that create breast cancer screening guidelines don't always agree. It can be confusing when the guidelines change. If you're not sure what screening you should have, work with your health care team. Together you can decide what's best for you.
Talk with your health care team about:
- Your risk of breast cancer. A health care professional can review your health history and your family's health history to understand your risk. If you have risk factors, your health care team might suggest other breast cancer screening tests. Sometimes people with a higher risk of breast cancer have screening tests more often.
- The pros and cons of screening mammograms. Consider all the benefits, risks and limits of breast cancer screening.
- The role of breast self-exams for breast awareness. Doing an exam of your breasts on your own can make you familiar with the way they look and feel. It can help you see if there are changes so you can seek medical care right away.
May 23, 2023
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See more Expert Answers
- AskMayoExpert. Breast cancer screening and options for supplemental screening in the dense breast (adult). Mayo Clinic; 2022.
- Brawley OW, et al. Disparities in breast cancer outcomes and how to resolve them. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America. 2023; doi:10.1016/j.hoc.2022.08.002.
- Breast cancer: Screening. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. https://uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/draft-recommendation/breast-cancer-screening-adults. Accessed May 17, 2023.
- Breast cancer screening and diagnosis. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/guidelines/guidelines-detail?category=2&id=1421. Accessed May 17, 2023.