How often should I be screened for breast cancer?
Having regular mammograms may not prevent breast cancer, but it may help to reduce the probability that it will go undetected. The American College of Physicians (ACP) makes the following general recommendations for women at average risk for breast cancer:
- Women at 40 to 49: An annual mammogram is not recommended for this age group but women should discuss their preferences with the doctors or cancer specialists
- Women at 50 to 74: A mammogram is recommended for every other year
- Women 75 and older: Mammograms are no longer recommended
In breast cancer screening, a woman who has no signs or symptoms for the disease undergoes a breast examination such as:
Breast examination: A physical examination of the breast by a doctor or other health professional
Mammography: Mammogram is a low dose x-ray examination which produces breast images. Mammography plays a key role in early detection of breast cancers as it can sometimes display breast changes before a patient or doctor can sense them. Evidence has shown that annual mammograms can lead to early detection of breast cancers when most curable and breast conservation therapies are available. A mammogram can also detect in situ ductal carcinoma (DCIS), abnormal cells that may grow into invasive cancer in the lining of a breast duct. Mammography is the only screening method for breast cancer proven to minimize disease deaths.
What are the benefits and risks of screening?
Every screening test has benefits and risks that is why it is important to discuss with your doctor before getting any screening test for breast cancer.
Benefits: The screening can help in identifying the disease at the early stage where it can be treatable.
Risks: Screening risks may include false positive test results (when a physician sees something that looks like cancer but it is not). This can result in undergoing more tests that may be expensive, invasive, time-consuming, and cause anxiety. Testing can also lead to overdiagnosis when doctors find a cancer that has not cause any symptoms or problems.