Why Annual Screening Mammograms Starting At Age 40 Are Important

Breast cancer is common in the United States and other developed countries, with one in eight women being diagnosed during their lifetime.

Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no substantial risk factors. I cannot tell you how many patients I have had who tell me, “This can’t be breast cancer. I exercise every day. I eat really healthy and I have no family history of cancer. This can’t happen to me. I do everything right.” And yet they ARE diagnosed anyway.

Our BEST defense is a good offense. Since breast cancer is so very common, our best strategy is to minimize the impact, if and when we are diagnosed with this common disease. Anyone who treats breast cancer can tell you that the earlier the diagnosis, the more likely and easier it is to cure.

Keep in mind that 80% of breast cancers that are diagnosed are in women who have NO family history of breast cancer.

All women in their 40’s should undergo mammograms EVERY year. One out of every 64 forty year old woman, i.e., the average risk woman (a woman with no family history of breast cancer) is diagnosed with breast cancer. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40’s make up almost a third of breast cancer deaths because cancers tend to be more aggressive in young women.

Having a mammogram every year results in the fewest breast cancer deaths at all ages. Some women may consider choosing to have a mammogram every other year after age 55. Yet the average doubling time of a breast cancer is one year. So the best interval for screening is one year. If you have dense breast tissue or any family history of breast cancer, you should still have a mammogram EVERY year because your risk is higher than average of having breast cancer.

If you have dense breast tissue, which appears white on the mammogram, you are more likely than the average woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition, that white tissue can make it harder to see cancers on mammography. Breast ultrasound screening is the best imaging exam to complement the mammogram to find cancers with a dense mammographic pattern. This has been proven in a number of studies.

Optimize your ability to beat this disease by getting a mammogram every year beginning at age 40. Although some women will choose to have less frequent mammograms as they get older, this is not a good idea. Our chances of getting breast cancer increase with age: 1 out 12 seventy-year old women get breast cancer and 1 out of 8 women in their eighties are diagnosed with breast cancer. If older women do not have any overwhelming health problems and are mobile, they should continue with annual mammography. If there is a family history of breast cancer, prior biopsies with abnormal cells or dense tissue, women should continue to get a mammogram EVERY year and ultrasound to help find breast cancers earlier. Help us help you!