Mammograms are performed as a screening test to detect breast cancer. Screening tests are performed because the test can detect a disease earlier and that earlier detection leads to better treatment outcomes. When you start having mammograms and how frequently depends on whether you are having any breast complaints, your family history, and your own values regarding the potential benefits and potential harms from screening. Harms from mammogram include having stress and anxiety from abnormal results that are ultimately not cancer. You should talk with your doctor to determine when you should start having mammograms and how frequently.
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Different national organizations have different recommendations about when to start having mammograms and how frequently they should be performed. According to the American Cancer Society, Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years,or can continue yearly screening. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
However, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, has different recommendations. The USPSTF recommends a screening mammogram at age 50 and then every other year until age 75. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Radiology recommend annual screening mammograms at age 40 until age 75.
The best test to detect breast cancer is yet to be discovered. Until then, your annual exam should include a conversation with your doctor to determine when and how frequently mammograms should be performed.