In honor of the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month let’s talk about risks and screenings. When should you get a screening mammogram? At what age should you start? How often should you get one? Do you need an ultrasound or an MRI for further evaluation and how often?
These questions have different answers depending on whose advice you are looking for. All the groups that make official recommendations have their own particular guidelines for routine screening mammograms. They all agree on the risk factors though.
- Family history/ genetics
- Younger age for first period
- Older age for first childbirth
- Older age for menopause
- Breast density
- Use of birth control and/or hormone replacement
- Lack of exercise
- Alcohol use
- Radiation exposure
The most aggressive guidelines for screening are from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. They recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40, and clinical breast exams. The most relaxed guidelines are from the US Preventive Services Task Force which does not even give recommendations for women with higher risk but only recommends screening mammograms every 2 years, beginning at age 50, and recommends against breast self-exam. The American Cancer Society recommends screening mammograms annually at 45 and decreasing to every other year at 55. The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recommends annual screening mammos at age 40. All but the USPSTF recommend being aware of the feeling of your own normal breast tissue and having an annual MRI if the lifetime risk of breast cancer is calculated to be more than 20% based on family history.
How do you determine a woman’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer? There are computer programs available that allow us to calculate that based on family history and the personal risk factors listed above. At your next physical exam we can determine if we need to calculate this risk, and at a followup appointment we can take the time to enter your personal and family data into a program that will give us a percentage chance that you could have breast cancer in the next 10 years and also the chances of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. These are sobering statistics (I have entered my own data and even with no family history of breast cancer my lifetime chances of developing it are 12%!). If your lifetime risk is 20% or higher you are entitled to see a genetic counselor and your insurance is obligated to pay for it, as well as an MRI (thank you Affordable Care Act).
Come in and let’s talk about your personal and family risk factors for developing breast cancer and make sure you are getting the appropriate screening to ensure your longest healthiest life.