How Often, and at What Age, Should You Have a Mammogram?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The information is confusing, to say the least. Some health organizations recommend an annual mammogram and others believe that every other year, beginning at age 50 is fine. A new study recommends women younger than 40 should have annual mammograms.  What should you do?

    Current Recommendations

    The American Cancer Society recommends that, beginning at age 40, women receive annual mammograms. The National Cancer Institute recommends the same thing. And, with the new health care law, insurance companies must pay for annual mammograms. Medicare also pays for annual mamograms.

    The Case for Biennial Screening

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    A study completed in 2012 showed that breast cancer screenings completed every year actually cause an overdiagnosis of breast cancer, with over 1 million women being diagnosed with cancers that would never have caused death. Annual screenings, according to the study, can lead to false positives, causing undue worry and medical care.

    Another study, conducted in 2013, found that a mammogram every other year for women over 50 was just as beneficial as annual screenings. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed medical records of over 900,00 women, showed that biennial mammograms resulted in fewer false positives.

    Screening Women Younger than 40

    The most recent report, which was issued September 9, 2013, found that women under the age of 40 would benefit from annual screenings. According to this study, the majority of women who died of breast cancer never had a mammogram. The researchers looked at medical records of 7,301 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1990 and 1999. As of 2007, 609 of these women had died with 65 percent of those women having never received a mammogram.

    Based on this, researchers concluded that earlier mammograms could have saved lives stating, “Most deaths from breast cancer occur in unscreened women. To maximize mortality reduction and life-years gained, initiation of regular screening before age 50 years should be encouraged.” [1]

    But some medical professionals don’t believe that earlier annual screenings offer that much benefit. Dr. Laura Esserman, in an article on NBCNews, explains “We know that younger women are more likely to develop killer cancers. Screening works best for more slow-growing cancers.” [2] She states that annual screenings don’t guarantee that if a cancer is found it won’t continue to grow, spread to other parts of the body or cause death.

    Some women, those with a family history of breast cancer or those who have been found to have certain genetic mutations making them more at risk of developing breast cancer, may be candidates for annual screening at a younger age.

    Making the Decision

    The new study hasn’t and probably won’t change the minds of many medical professionals, the American Cancer Society or the insurance companies. Recommendations will probably remain the same - annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

    But the best advice is to talk with your doctor. He or she knows and understands your health history, your risks and can work with you to determine when and how often you should receive mammograms.

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    See also:

    Breast Cancer Symptoms


    Breast Self Exams


    Breasts: Lumps and Bumps


    Screening Tests A woman Needs


    “Biennial Mammograms Best After 50, Even for Women with Dense Breasts,” 2013, March, Elizabeth Fernandez, UCSF

    [1] [2] “New Salvo in Mammogram Wars Says Young Women Should Be Screened,” 2013, Spet. 9, Maggie Fox,

Published On: September 10, 2013