How breast screening guidelines put you in control of your health

Women's Health

by Anita Chow, MD

Oct 11, 2023

When it comes to protecting your breast health, it’s reassuring to have trusted resources to turn to. While your primary care doctor or OBGYN should be your first stop for questions about breast health, breast screening guidelines are also a great tool to give every woman more knowledge and education about her health.

By knowing the current guidelines for routine mammograms for breast cancer screening, you have the power to take control and manage your health better.

What’s behind the breast screening guidelines

National cancer screening guidelines, including those for breast cancer, are created by a community of medical experts and epidemiologists—people who look at patterns and sources of disease. These health professionals analyze data that includes cases of breast cancer, the affected age groups and the outcomes. Then guidelines are created using the input of multiple experts and elements. This in-depth analysis means that you can feel confident in following their lead and seeing these guidelines as a trusted resource.

Over the years, screening guidelines have evolved as we learn more about preventing disease. For example, recent updates to some breast cancer guidelines lowered the age to begin screening at 40 years old. This decision was based on complex models that showed changing the screening age to 40 could potentially save more lives by detecting breast cancer earlier. Baylor Scott & White Health supports the recommendations to begin annual screening mammograms at age 40.

Breast screening guidelines for those with an average risk of breast cancer

Today, most guidelines recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer get an annual screening mammogram starting at age 40. Early detection of breast cancer means earlier detection and treatment, which can save lives.

Guidelines are just one of the tools to take care of yourself. Your doctor is the best resource to help you determine how to use the guidelines to your individual needs. Together, you can make the decision with your doctor about when to start screening mammograms.

Breast screening guidelines for those with a high risk of breast cancer

It’s important to look at the factors that put you at a higher risk of breast cancer. If you have any of these risk factors for breast cancer, you might need to follow a different screening schedule than someone with an average risk.

Some of the factors that increase your risk include but are not limited to:

If any of these factors apply to you, talk to your physician about starting screening mammograms before age 40. Your doctor can guide you through your next steps to determine if you fall into the high-risk category and need additional care.

Put the breast screening guidelines to work for you

Breast screening guidelines are based on data that has shown benefits for the general population, so they are helpful in providing a framework for you to be proactive in caring for your health. But you should personalize the guidelines to fit your healthcare needs. Managing breast health is like managing other health issues. It needs to be an individualized treatment plan. The best way to understand the risks and benefits of any test—including screening mammograms—is to talk with your doctor.

Get started by finding a provider near you or learning more about your mammogram and breast imaging options.

About the Author

Dr. Chow is a breast surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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