What women need to know about annual mammograms

Posted at 7:00 PM, Oct 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-09 19:00:17-04

Breast cancer guidelines from the American Cancer Society may have changed last year, but doctors say mammograms are still a key step in cancer detection and prevention.

Women are now advised to begin annual cancer screenings at age 45, a five year age increase that Dr. Shweta Kurian, a hematologist and oncologist with MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, said was the result of research suggesting the risk of over-diagnosis. Dr. Kurian said younger women tend to get more false positives during mammogram screenings, leading to unnecessary biopsies and other procedures. 

While screenings can occur later in a woman's life, the conversation about breast health should start early.

Experts from the MedStar Health Cancer Network will answer calls and questions about breast cancer early detection on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Call 410-481-2222.

“The discussion about having a mammogram should begin at age 40,” Dr. Kurian said.

A primary care doctor can help determine a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, as well as the proper steps to take as a result.

Several high risk factors including age, a family history of breast cancer, previous abnormal mammograms, weight and a history of smoking, can determine whether a woman should receive a mammogram screening before age 45. Women who have given birth after age 30, or who have received chest radiation before age 30, are also at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

"From age 40 to 44, the recommendation is to have a discussion with your physician, and then depending on your risk, if you are high risk, to undergo biannual screenings.”

Women ages 45 to 54 should undergo annual mammograms, Dr. Kurian said, since this is the most common age for women to develop breast cancer. From 55 to 75, biannual mammograms are suggested with the option of an annual screening depending on a woman’s previous breast cancer risk.

Beyond age 75, there are no guidelines, according to Dr. Kurian. The incidence of breast cancer is much higher in older women, yet other medical problems may begin plague a woman as she grows older in age. A doctor can help decide whether a woman should continue her biannual screenings at this time based on her health and life expectancy.

What hasn’t changed is the importance of the self breast exam, which can help identify lesions or lumps early on.

Dr. Kurian said her patients are advised to conduct self exams every month, checking for lumps, discharge, nipple inversion and redness of the breast.

Women who’ve had multiple family members diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 should consider meeting with a genetic counselor to see if they harbor a gene mutation, which would also place them at a higher risk.

“It’s basically planning things before it becomes a problem," she said.

Download the ABC2 News app for the iPhone, Kindle and Android