The Mammogram Age Debate Explained
In the last couple of years, there’s been much debate on which would be the correct age for a woman to have her first mammogram. Although the rule-of-thumb has always been 50, some experts believe that this cancer screening should start earlier – around the age of 40.
However, others are not in agreement, saying that early screening can cause uncertainty. According to these professionals, women between the ages of 40 and 49 have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than those over 50, and only certain factors change this equation. Family history, genetics and lifestyle are some of these. Women who have a close family relative (mom or sister) who developed breast cancer before 50 should consider mammography earlier than those in the average risk bracket.
Starting breast screening too early in life may be of no benefit to woman in the lower risk group. The breasts of women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s are denser than those of older women. They have more breast tissue and less fat, which makes it difficult for mammography to penetrate, therefor making it difficult for growths to be detected.
Younger women are more likely to have a false-positive result because dense tissue can show up as suspicious in a mammogram. This could lead to unnecessary follow-up tests, causing undue stress and expenses.
However, breast cancers in younger women tend to grow faster than those in older women. This means that doing a mammogram every 1-2 years may not always result in early detection and prompt treatment.
For this reason, self-examination should be done on a monthly basis. Any abnormality or change that is detected in the breasts must be taken seriously and discussed with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
The global recommended age to start doing annual screenings for those with average risk profiles is between 45 and 50. Experts recommend doing a mammogram once a year for women aged between 45 and 54 and one every two years for those 55 and older. Lifelong screening should continue after the age of 55.