In the past few years, for many women, the answer hasn’t been clear.
Guidelines from a federal task force in 2009 recommend mammograms beginning at age 50. But at a recent conference of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the organization strongly recommended that yearly screenings begin at age 40. This recommendation is supported by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the National Cancer Institute.
Tina Stein, MD, a diagnostic radiologist with Riddle Hospital, points out that the federal task force didn’t include expert breast imagers.
“Evidence at RSNA was provided by a review of screening mammograms obtained between 2000 and 2010, which detected more than 6,000 cancers. Eighteen percent of these were in women ages 40 to 49,” Dr. Stein says. “One-third of these were in women who had no symptoms. That means 373 women would have had their cancers for 10 years by the time they were eligible for a mammogram, according to the guidelines.”
Dr. Stein, who has discovered many cancers on mammograms that weren’t present on the previous year’s mammograms, says that radiation exposure is very low and shouldn’t discourage women from having the screening. Talk with your doctor or radiologist about any concerns you might have.
“Digital imaging has lowered the exposure by more than 20 percent compared to film,” she adds. “In any event, the risks of mammography are far outweighed by the clear benefits.”
Prevention Is Key
Under the new Affordable Care Act, mammography screenings every 1 to 2 years for women over 40 must be covered with no cost-sharing for new health plans and Medicare.
Learn more about women’s health during the “Preventive Care 101” presentation with Family Medicine Physician Dr. Kristie Nichols at the Design Your Best Life event March 31. Register for the event here or call 1.888.876.8764.