Mammograms: Women Join the Conversation

Mammogram screenings starting at age 40 reduce the chances of death due to breast cancer, but screenings can also lead to harmful effects such as anxiety, false-positive results, unnecessary biopsies, and overtreatment. As a result, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently updated its mammogram screening guidelines.

With its new recommendations, which apply to women who are at average risk of breast cancer, ACOG emphasizes a shared decision-making process in which the patient and provider jointly discuss the risks and benefits. The focus is on women being able to make informed choices based on personal values and preferences.

Here’s a summary of ACOG’s guidelines regarding mammograms for average-risk women (risk takes into account factors such as lifestyle, any family history of breast cancer, and lack of symptoms):

  • Mammograms should be offered when a woman turns 40 years old and should begin no later than age 50.
  • Mammograms should be done every one or two years.
  • Screenings should continue until at least 75 years old.

These guidelines are framed by ACOG’s overarching recommendation that each should be followed based on shared decision-making with one’s provider.

ACOG’s recommendation for the age of a woman’s first mammogram differs somewhat with the American Cancer Society’s, which states that women should start screenings at age 45. See a comparison of recommendations from other leading organizations on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Breast Cancer Screening Chart.”

To learn more about ACOG’s updated guidelines, visit its website at www.acog.org. Remember to check the license status of your doctor by visiting the Medical Board of California’s website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

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