From Diabetes to breast cancer, the guidelines for screenings set forth by the medical community are always in flux, as technology and research move toward the future. This means that it’s important to stay abreast of new information and recommendations as they become available. On the topic of breast cancer – the opinions on mammogram screening guidelines are ever-changing, with the American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the National Cancer Institute, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the American Cancer Society each having a say in the matter.1
While mammograms don’t deter breast cancer, they are excellent at detecting it in its early stages; for this reason, screening is very important. After all, physical examinations may only detect larger lumps. Doctors who diagnose women with early stage cancer are often able to excise the localized cancer, rather than perform a Mastectomy1, which can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life. Harnessing the power of a low dose X-ray system, mammograms allow Radiologists to get an inside view of the breast tissue. The rise of Breast Tomosynthesis, or three-dimensional (3-D) mammography pieces multiple clear images, or “slices” together to allow for even earlier detection of smaller breast cancers that can sometimes be undetectable with conventional techniques.2
The parameters around breast cancer screenings have shifted in recent years due to the information surrounding the dangers of over-diagnosing or false positive results. Because slow-growing, low-risk tumors are often hard to distinguish from harmful ones, many patients are subjected to unnecessary biopsies, chemotherapy, and radiation3 – which can be damaging to health.
The most recent guidelines placed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer (meaning no risks are present), should start screenings at age 50 instead of age 40.1
The main difference is that the modifications have scaled back the frequency of mammograms for younger women that fall into the 40-44 age group. According to Susan G. Komen, most women in this category have a lower risk of breast cancer, to begin with. They also have denser breasts – which can make studying mammogram images for abnormalities a bit difficult.4
While these changes have been somewhat controversial, your safest bet is to communicate with a medical professional that you trust. You and your healthcare provider will have a look at your family history and health records to determine if you are a candidate for earlier screenings. Women aged 45-54 are advised to have yearly mammograms. Once a woman reaches age 55 and older, she may switch to every other year depending on her specific circumstances.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are many exceptions to the above rules, and risk assessment tools allow doctor and patient to make well-informed decisions. Those who have tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, those with a first-degree relative who had the mutation, people who have had radiation to the chest area, or have a family history of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Cowden syndrome, or Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndrome, face a lifetime risk of 20-25% for developing breast cancer. For this reason, those in this category will receive MRIs and mammograms starting at age 30.5
Independent Imaging is one facility that is utilizing cutting-edge 3D digital mammography for early diagnosis of breast cancer. Highly advantageous for detecting tumors in dense breasts or in those under the age 50, digital mammograms produce superior images and may be enlarged for optimal viewing by a Radiologist.6 For more information about breast cancer screening, or to schedule an appointment, call Independent Imaging at 561-795-5558.