Breast Cancer Screenings, Self-Exams and the Right Age for Starting Mammograms
3 min. read
Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute
Breast cancer that’s found early is more likely to be treated successfully, and getting regular screenings is the most reliable way to find breast cancer early. This vital reminder reverberates the strongest during Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October.
Starting at the age of 40, women at average risk should start screening with a mammogram every year. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast and can detect breast cancer up to two years before the tumor can be felt by the individual or your doctor. Moreover, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that women should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel -- and should report any changes to a physician right away.
States the ACS: “Most often when breast cancer is detected because of symptoms (such as a lump in the breast), a woman discovers the symptom during usual activities such as bathing or dressing.”
In May, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommended that all women get screened for breast cancer starting at age 40. The independent panel of experts that sets widely followed screenings updated its guidance based on a review of new evidence.
Baptist Health South Florida already supported annual mammograms for women at average risk starting at age 40. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer, and the second most common cause of cancer death for women in the United States. Women who are at high risk for breast cancer based on certain factors should get a breast MRI and a mammogram every year, typically starting at age 30, according to the ACS guidelines.
Other organizations have been recommending annual screening mammograms at age 40 long before the Task Force update, explains Katharine Lampen-Sachar, M.D., section chief of breast imaging at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.
“It's long been recognized that starting annual screenings at age 40 saves the most lives,” said Dr. Lampen-Sachar. “With the current recommendation, the Task Force recommends that women get screened every other year. However, the recommendations from multiple organizations, including the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, is that we actually do it every year and not skip a year in between. We have so much data that confirms the importance of doing annual mammography starting at age 40.”
Baptist Health offers screening mammograms at several convenient locations to ensure access to these vital services. Talk to your doctor about your specific risk and which screening is right for you.
“I would just reiterate that mammography is a tried-and-true mechanism to find breast cancer,” said Dr. Lampen-Sachar. “It's the best tool that we have out there. That's why we call it the gold standard for diagnosing breast cancer. Nothing's ever going to be perfect. But this is a really good tool, and we have so many years of experience to say that it actually really, really works.”
The Task Force also addressed disparities among minorities in breast cancer screenings. It stated that Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women, “and too often get deadly cancers at younger ages.” The Task Force is calling for more research to understand the underlying causes and what can be done to eliminate this health disparity.
“Ensuring Black women start screening at age 40 is an important first step, yet it is not enough to improve the health inequities we face related to breast cancer,” said Task Force vice chair Wanda Nicholson, M.D., in a statement. “In our draft recommendation, we underscore the importance of equitable follow-up after screening and timely and effective treatment of breast cancer and are urgently calling for more research on how to improve the health of Black women.”
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