Harvard blog offers 4 things to consider before deciding when to have a mammogram

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The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the two most influential sources of breast cancer screening guidelines in the nation, have come closer together in recent years regarding screening recommendations for women age 55 years and older.

But for younger women, particularly those 40 years or older with average risk, a conflict in the guidelines regarding when to begin regular breast cancer screening remains an issue of confusion, and there seems to be no definitive answer to the question, “Should I have a mammogram?”

Determining when or whether to have a mammogram has a lot to do with the individual patient, according to a  recent post on the Harvard Women’s Health Watch blog, which advised women to consider the following four factors before settling on a screening strategy:

  1. Your personal breast cancer risk. The recommendations are aimed at women who are at average risk for breast cancer. Your clinician can use calculators to help you estimate your personal risk.
  2. Mammography’s risks and benefits. Though the overall risk is lower, younger women may have a higher risk for aggressive cancers, but are also more likely to have false positives and undergo additional tests, including biopsies.
  3. Your preferences. Your personal beliefs and feelings are as important as the statistics in deciding how often to have mammograms.
  4. Your age. Older patients may not be willing to undergo extended cancer treatments, while some younger women may want an active screening schedule to catch cancer early.

Evaluating these factors with a physician can help patients make personalized decisions about their own breast cancer screening strategy and clear up some of the confusion of conflicting guidelines and recommendations.

“For now, whether or when to have a mammogram is a decision for you to make with your doctor,” the article concluded. “And while there may not be one ‘right’ answer, you can likely find one that is right for you.”