When Should I Start Getting Screened for Breast Cancer?

Mammography is an important tool for detecting breast cancer early on, when it's easiest to treat. But the benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk. Experts have different recommendations for mammography. Currently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often to get them.

The ACS recommends clinical breast exams (CBEs) at least every three years for all women in their 20s and 30s. The ACS recommends annual CBEs for women ages 40 and older. The USPSTF, however, believes there is not enough evidence to assess the value of CBEs for women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors and make a decision about whether they should have a CBE.

If you have a high risk for breast cancer, consider earlier and more frequent screening. Discuss this with your doctor.

Who's At High Risk for Breast Cancer and May Need More Frequent Screenings?

You're at high risk if you agree with any of these statements. And if you're at high risk, you may need to be screened more frequently than someone whose risk is lower.

I have a strong family history of breast cancer or have the breast cancer gene.

If you have had genetic testing that shows a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, you are at high risk for breast cancer. You should begin screening at age 25. A very strong family history includes two or more female relatives with breast or ovarian cancer (especially if breast cancer was diagnosed before age 50 or was in both breasts) or at least one close male relative with breast cancer. If you have this kind of family history, begin screening at age 25 for breast and ovarian cancer and get follow-ups with a specialist.

I have had breast cancer before.

If you have had breast cancer, you should see your cancer doctor regularly and have a yearly mammogram.

I have had benign breast disease.

If you have been diagnosed with benign breast disease, you should be screened every year.

I have been exposed to high doses of radiation.

If you have ever been exposed to high-dose radiation in your chest area, you have an increased chance of getting breast cancer. You should have a mammogram beginning 10 years after the radiation exposure or at age 40, whichever comes first. Some experts also recommend a CBE beginning at the same time.

Medical Reviewer: [Gemignani, Mary L. MD, Rick AlteriRick Alteri MD] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-10-24T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © 2007 CancerSource, 280 Summer Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02210. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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On the day of your mammogram, it's important that you don't wear deodorant.