An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening
Mammography is the best screening method for detecting breast cancer when it is in its earliest and most treatable stages. However, debate continues on whether mammograms contribute to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of breast cancer.
Much of the debate focuses on when women should begin to have mammograms and how frequently they should receive them. Experts continue to review new information on these issues.
Current mammography screening guidelines recommend:
- Most major professional groups, including The American Cancer Society and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, recommend that women have a mammogram every year starting at age 40.
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine mammograms for women in their 40s, but says that decisions to screen women in this age group should be made on a case by case basis. They recommend mammography every other year for women starting at age 50.
- Discussing the risks and benefits of mammography, your personal risk factors for breast cancer, and your feelings and preferences about screening with your health care provider.
Genetic Risk Screening
Mutations in the genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 are among the strongest risk factors for breast and ovarian and cancers. The United States Preventive Service Task Force recommends screening for BRCA genetic mutations in women whose family history suggests a high risk for breast cancer. Women who do not have risk factors do not need to be screened.
Your provider may screen your risk for these genes using a questionnaire. Having several first-degree or second-degree relatives who have had breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancers is an indication of risk.
If you are at risk, you may be referred to a genetic counselor who can discuss whether you should be tested for these genetic mutations.