The screening guidelines for breast cancer differ depending on who is issuing the guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), The American Cancer Society, and The American Society of Breast Surgeons, all have slightly different recommendations for screening. The following recommendations are from the American Cancer Society. We’ll also talk today about some risk factors for breast cancer that you can control.
What are the screening guidelines for breast cancer in women?
Screening recommendations for women at average risk:
Women between age 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram yearly.
Women 45-54 should get mammograms every year.
Women 55 and older can switch to mammograms every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
All women should understand what to expect when getting a mammogram for breast cancer screening – what the test can and cannot do.
Screening recommendations are different for women at high risk for developing breast cancer. There are several things that increase your risk for breast cancer, including your family history, certain genetic conditions, and having a history of radiation therapy to the chest. If you are at high risk for breast cancer, your doctor may recommend that you start screening much earlier and may also recommend using a breast MRI in addition to a mammogram for screening.
How do you know if you are at high risk for breast cancer?
If you think that you might be at high risk for breast cancer, you should talk with your doctor about your concerns. You and your healthcare provider can discuss your family history and other possible risk factors, and work through some different risk assessment tools to determine your overall risk. Depending on your family history, your doctor may recommend that you meet with a genetic counselor and/or have genetic testing before making a final determination of your risk.
Can you lower your risk of developing breast cancer?
Absolutely! There are some risk factors that you cannot change, such as your family history. But there are several breast cancer risk factors that you can change by making some changes to your lifestyle. Here are some of the risk factors that you can control:
Drinking alcohol – Alcohol consumption is clearly linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, with the risk increasing with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who have one alcoholic drink a day have a small increased risk compared to nondrinkers, but women who have 2-3 drinks a day have about a 20% higher risk than nondrinkers.
Being overweight or obese – The link between weight and breast cancer is complex and may be different for certain types of breast cancer. To lower your risk of breast cancer, you should try to stay at a healthy weight.
Physical activity level – Regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, especially in women past menopause.
Not having children – Women who do not have children or who have their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher breast cancer risk overall.
Please encourage your female friends and family members to have their breast cancer screening. If you do not have insurance and cannot afford to pay for a mammogram, there are several organizations that may be able to help. Your healthcare provider can help put you in touch with one in your area.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor