Taking charge of your health is important for lowering your risk of breast cancer. But following national recommendations can be confusing, because you may notice slight variations to what you read online.
Linda Reilman, MD, medical director of Radiology at Fort Hamilton Hospital, explains, “The American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology are consistent in their guidelines, and the American College of Radiology is the accrediting body for mammography centers in the country.”
Here, we break down the screening guidelines for average-risk and high- risk women of all ages.
Determining your breast cancer risk level
When discussing breath health screening recommendations, it’s important to note that there are different sets of guidelines for those who are at average risk of developing breast cancer, and those who are considered high-risk. Women are at higher risk of breast cancer if they have a family history of breast cancer, particularly in the immediate family; if they’ve tested positive for having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene; or if they’ve had an atypical biopsy in the past. Anyone in this high-risk category needs to start screenings earlier than women with average risk of breast cancer.
Recommendations for high-risk women:
• Under 25: perform breast self-exams and see doctor once a year for well-woman exam
• 25-29: continue self-exams and yearly doctor visits; possibly add in breast MRIs
• 30+: start yearly mammograms, incorporating additional modalities of MRIs and ultrasounds. Dr. Reilman notes that breast MRIs and ultrasounds can be helpful in women who may have denser breast tissue. These can be incorporated every other year at your health care provider’s discretion.
Screening recommendations throughout the years or women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer, the American Cancer Society and
American College of Radiology recommend starting yearly mammograms at age 40.
Recommendations for average-risk women:
• Under 40: perform breast self-exams and see doctor once a year for well-woman exam
• 40-44+: begin yearly screening mammograms
• 75+: talk with your health care provider about continued screenings
Dr. Reilman says that sometimes patients have concerns before the age of 40. “Some people can opt to get a baseline exam between ages 35-40, and if everything is normal, we don’t need to screen again until age 40.” She also notes that some recommendations will say that mammogram screenings can end at the age of 75. However, Dr. Reilman says there are further considerations. “If a woman is healthy and has a life expectancy of an additional 5-10 years, she should continue to get mammograms. Women should have discussions with their physicians about their quality of life and the reasonableness of continuing mammography.”
Take charge of your health
“The biggest message,” Dr. Reilman says, “is to be self-aware. Learn how to do breast self-exams, and ask your doctor to help you if you don’t know. Don’t be afraid of what you’re going to find, because many patients catch something at home and it ends up saving them. Be proactive about