Why to get your annual mammogram

Is it time to get a mammogram? What are the current guidelines for screening?

Mammography can be a confusing topic because different organizations make different recommendations, some of which are based on individual factors. This article seeks to summarize those guidelines and explain why mammograms are important.

Is it time to get a mammogram? This can be a very confusing topic because there are different recommendations depending on the different organizations. Some are based on individual factors. This article seeks to summarize the common guidelines and explain why mammograms are becoming mandatory.

Let’s start with the current guidelines. The US Preventive Services Task Force provides recommendations for screenings like mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopies. But other organizations like the American College of Physicians and American Cancer Society also provide recommendations that are similar but not exactly the same. Most associations agree that all women at average risk, aged 50-74, should get a mammogram either every year or every other year. (It is split about 50:50 recommending annual or biennial screening.) So what about women in their forties? For women at average risk, the American Cancer Society states that women “… should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.” We will dive into what goes into this risk/benefit calculation in a moment.

…women at average risk aged 50-74 should get a mammogram every year or every other year.

The next logical question is what constitutes being at average vs. a higher risk for breast cancer? Several factors are important: women with a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing it themselves. If you have a sibling, parent, or child with breast cancer, you may benefit from screening in your forties. Additionally, having a first degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation may warrant screening as early as thirty years old with mammography and an MRI. A final risk factor is receiving intra-thoracic irradiation between the ages of ten and thirty. Screening should then start eight to ten years after the radiation treatment. Even with these various risk factors, no organization recommends mammography before age twenty-five.

To be thorough at the other end, women over seventy-five should consult their physician regarding breast cancer screening. If they are in good health, they may continue screening with mammography. Women with breast implants can still get screening mammography but need to make this fact clear before getting the procedure done. The technician will take four extra views in order to see all of the breast tissue clearly.

Going back to individual considerations, you may wonder: what risks could there be in a simple screening test? Several exist and warrant some thought. According to the USPTF, “In addition to false-positive results and unnecessary biopsies, all women undergoing regular screening mammography are at risk for the diagnosis and treatment of a noninvasive and invasive breast cancer that would otherwise not have become a threat to their health, or even apparent, during their lifetime (known as “overdiagnosis”). Beginning mammography screening at a younger age and screening more frequently may increase the risk for overdiagnosis and subsequent overtreatment.”

So, why get a mammogram? Simply put, screening saves lives.

In short, the more we look, the more we find. Additionally, premenopausal women have denser breasts and dense breast tissue can be misinterpreted by mammography as being abnormal or suspicious. This is why no organization recommends mammography for average-risk women in their thirties. The stress of having a potentially suspicious mass, waiting for the results of ultrasound, MRI and/or biopsy accounts the significant emotional cost of overdiagnosis and false positives.

Interestingly, the guidelines on breast self-exams (BSE) are also mixed. Some organizations recommend against BSE because the average woman does not have the clinical skills to differentiate normal breast densities and potentially suspicious masses. The idea here is that regular BSE could lead to more unnecessary visits to doctors’ offices, ultrasounds, and mammograms. However, the American Cancer Society states that women “…should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.”

Overall, I take this to mean that more self-awareness is a good thing. Even if you do an annual clinical breast exam and a mammogram, they are only one data point each per year. Who’s got your back the rest of the year? There are certainly cases of women (and even partners) catching a suspicious mass because they were paying attention and watching (or feeling) for changes.

Now that the guidelines have been laid out, why get a mammogram? Simply put, screening saves lives. And it is almost always better to know than not to know. Mammography uses very small doses of radiation to scan the breasts and then a radiologist will assess the image to look for any irregular tissue. Mammography is relatively non-invasive and can be mildly uncomfortable, but it is otherwise generally low risk.  Catching cancer early gives you the best odds of beating it.

Final note: your health is your responsibility. So while your doctor should know these guidelines and advise you when to start screening, you can also choose to become empowered and informed. Regular screenings help detect serious issues early and lead to better outcomes overall.

  • Latest Posts
Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
No Comments

Post A Comment

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Be the first to hear about new events, products and all things She Is You!