Mammograms are an effective way to screen for the presence of breast cancer. However, mammogram recommendations can leave you unsure about when to start screening or how often you should be screened.

There’s been discussion in recent years about how effective mammograms are in detecting breast cancer at an early age and whether women with no known risk factors benefit from early screening.

Benefits of Getting a Mammogram

It’s been found that mammography in women ages 40-49 may save lives, but the benefits aren’t as strong as they are for older women. That’s because women in this age group have a lower risk of developing the disease and have denser breast tissue (which can make it harder to see abnormal findings). There’s a higher rate of false positive results from mammograms done on younger women, which can lead to the need for unnecessary follow-up tests.

This has led various organizations to offer different breast cancer screening recommendations. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t recommend routine mammography until women are 50 years old. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network still recommends routine mammography beginning at age 40.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • If you’re 40 – 44: You should have the option of beginning breast cancer screenings.
  • If you’re 45 – 54: You should get a mammogram every year.
  • If you’re 55 or over: You can get a mammogram every 2 years if you’ve had no abnormal screenings.

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When and how often should you get a mammogram?

It’s best to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor to determine when the best time to begin mammograms are and how often you should get them based on your breast cancer risk profile. Some women may require screenings beginning at an earlier age or on a more frequent schedule, based on factors such as family history, genetic tendency or other risk factors.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 26, 2016

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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