The Rules Have Changed

What age am I supposed to start mammogram screening? Why the shift?
Hannah Perry, MD, breast cancer imaging mammography

Hannah Perry, MD, Division Chief and Medical Director of Breast Imaging at The University of Vermont Medical Center, answers your questions about the recent change in breast cancer screening.

I heard there are new recommendations around breast cancer screening. What’s changed?

The United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently proposed lowering the recommended age for women to begin receiving mammograms to test for breast cancer. In its draft statement, the USPSTF now recommends that average risk women receive their first mammogram at age 40, down from age 50 in its 2016 recommendations, with repeat mammograms every other year until age 74.

This update aligns the USPSTF recommendations with guidelines from multiple other expert societies. The new recommendations also call for additional research to determine the risks and benefits of screening women age 75 and older.

Do I really need to pay attention to this? I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among women and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. Even those who don’t have breast cancer in their family should get screened.

Does screening really help?

Screening mammography enables early detection of breast cancers before they would be clinically apparent and before they spread to other parts of the body. Finding breast cancers early may allow different treatment options and may make those treatments more effective.

Who could benefit most from earlier screening?

Annual mammography starting at age 40 has the potential to save many lives, especially for Black and minority women and women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage who, research shows, tend to develop breast cancer at an earlier age.

Where should I go for more information?

To discuss your breast cancer risk and screening needs, contact your primary care, women’s health or gynecology provider. We perform screening mammography at many sites throughout the UVM Health Network, Monday through Friday, with some locations offering evening or weekend appointments.

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