Am I Old Enough for a Mammogram?

mammogram, diagnostic mammogram, 3d mammogram

For the past few decades, women and researchers have been trying to figure out when women should start getting mammograms. A mammogram screens for breast cancer, and it is critical in order to detect cancer as early as possible. Early detection is one of the best tactics in effectively beating cancer, so this topic of the utmost importance.

However, there’s another side to the story. Each screening also exposes the patient to radiation, which in turn increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This makes it a double-edged sword where there’s a window that you should get tested for breast cancer when the pros outweigh the cons. This window is usually when the patient is at the age where patients typically develop breast cancer.

So, how old you have to be to get a mammogram?

Well, there are no strict rules for when you should start getting mammos, but there are guidelines that women are recommended to follow. However, these guidelines differ slightly, so here are three of top cancer organizations and their recommendations:

1.     American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)

With both the earliest age recommendations and the most consistent screening recommendations, ACOG certainly offers more intensive screening guidelines than the other major cancer organizations. They recommend that most patients get their first mammogram at 40 years old, and then they recommend that each individual should continue to get screenings annually.   

2.     U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Services (USPSTF)

On the other end of the spectrum, Task Force Services provides more lenient guidelines for patients as they suggest that patients do not need to get their first screening until they are 50 years old, unless, of course, you have a family history of breast cancer. Additionally, Task Force Services also recommends that you only need to screen every two years after your first mammogram, not every year.

3.     American Cancer Society (ACS)

As a middle man between both ACOG and Task Force Services, the American Cancer Society provides more balanced guidelines that recommend ages and screenings in the middle of the other two. The ACS changed their guidelines last year from the same as ACOG to recommendations that strongly suggest that women should now wait until they are 45 years old to get their first mammogram. From there, they provide that women should get mammos yearly until they are 54, which they should then continue getting mammos every other year.  

At the end of the day, there really is no definitive answer that tells you an exact rule for when you should be getting your mammos. However, it is definite that you should be getting screened during your at-risk years, which are in your 40’s and 50’s. Of course, it is also pretty definite that there are some cons associated with getting too many mammos, so there’s a balance that needs to take place.

While some organizations provide guidelines that give more weight to the pros over the cons, and vice versa, they all provide credible guidelines for general patients. But, when you should get your first mammo and how often you should get screened really depends on your individual circumstances. So, in order to get the most specific guidelines according to your particular conditions, you should always talk to your doctor and medical care providers as they will be able to provide you with the most accurate recommendations for your case!

By Russell McBurnie