For years, guidelines regarding mammograms have been, well, all over the place. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends women get a mammogram every two years starting at age 50. Since 2003, the American Cancer Society has recommended annual mammograms starting at age 40. The society's first mammogram guideline revisions in more than a decade are only complicating matters. A breakdown, per NBC News and CNN:
- Women with an average risk of breast cancer should have a mammogram every year from age 45 to 54. If a woman wants one sooner, she should be able to start at age 40, as long as she understands false positives are more common at this age.
- Women over 55 years can continue annual screenings or choose to have a mammogram every two years since breast cancers develop more slowly in post-menopausal women. This is part of what an ACS doctor calls "a personalized approach," per Time.
- Keep up with annual or biennial screenings while you remain in good health and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years.
- Average-risk women can opt out of routine breast checks altogether.
Why fewer checks? The society's chief medical officer tells CNN that mammograms aren't always beneficial, and the stress of the procedures, plus misdiagnoses, actually cause harm. If a woman "starts screening at age 40, she increases the risk that she'll need a breast cancer biopsy that turns out with the doctor saying 'You don't have cancer, so sorry we put you through all this,'" he says. Critics, however, say the new guidelines are dangerous since experts only examined whether screening saved a woman's life, rather than led to an early diagnosis. Confused? This won't help: The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging "continue to recommend that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40," according to a release. (Read more American Cancer Society stories.)