Mammogram at 40?

When should you have your first mammogram? Last year, the American Cancer Society recommended these standards for mammograms for American women:

  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer (less than 15%) should begin mammography screening at age 45.
  • Women with more than a 15% lifetime or genetic risk of breast cancer should begin screening at age 40 or younger.
  • Women with a 20% or greater risk should undergo regular screening MR. 
  • Women with at least a 5% risk of carrying a genetic mutation in her family should have genetic testing.

The problem, according to new research reported at the Aunt Minnie website, is that women don’t know which group they fall into.

Dr. Jennifer Plichta of Massachusetts General Hospital conducted research with a group of 6,964 female patients, 909 of whom fell into the 40-44 age group. Of these women, just about half fell into one of the higher-risk groups that should have started testing earlier.

Plichta pointed out that the guidelines assume that women who should have mammograms at 40 will somehow get this information. Ideally, she said, the women’s primary care providers or GYNs would recommend appropriate screenings based on individual risk. The women in the study, even though they self-reported risk factors, were not given that advice.

“If we’re going to go forward with this personalized medicine approach,” Plichta said, “we have to figure out who will be responsible for these risk assessments. I don’t think this issue was thought through when the guidelines were released.”

The Breast Center recommends mammograms beginning at age 40 for all women. It isn’t worth taking the risk of waiting until later. The Breast Center offers Risk Assessment counseling for those who want to know more about their risk and potential need for additional testing. Discuss this with your primary physician, or call (479)442-6266 for a Risk Assessment appointment at The Breast Center.