Five reasons to start annual mammograms at 40
by Shannon Arner
Dr. Bryan Jordan is an expert-trained breast imager at Eastern Radiologists’ Breast Imaging Center in Greenville. Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Dr. Jordan is no stranger to a college town. He earned his BS and MD degrees right there in his hometown at the University of South Alabama. He completed his fellowship at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson in Houston, specializing in breast imaging. We asked Dr. Jordan why women should start their annual mammograms at age 40.
The magic number has always been 40. 40 is the age when women should have their first baseline mammogram, and continue scheduling them annually thereafter. But in 2015, those crystal-clear guidelines began to get a little murky. That was when the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that women begin mammograms at age 50 and continue only every other year—which would mean no screening mammograms for women 40-49, and no annual mammograms for anyone at all. Then, a few months later the American Cancer Society followed suit, updating their recommendations to age 45 for the first mammogram—although they continue to recommend annual screenings. So, why all of the conflicting recommendations?
“I’m very much opposed to waiting until 50 to start mammograms,” says Dr. Jordan. “I don’t understand how the USPSTF can put that recommendation out there in good conscience. So many deaths can be prevented by starting an annual mammogram routine at 40, and that is statistically proven. I just don’t budge on that. But I think it’s okay not to budge on that. It’s okay for people to be emotional about this issue. It’s okay to be passionate, because it shows that we, as breast imagers, care deeply for our patients, and we do have the data to support that 40 is the age to start.”
Dr. Jordan recommends that women start annual mammograms at 40. Though the USPSTF and the American Cancer Society have waffled a bit, breast health experts across the board maintain that 40 is still the magic number. Here’s why:
• Women in their 40s DO get breast cancer. In fact, one in six breast cancers occur in women ages 40-49. You probably know someone personally who was diagnosed in her 40s. Research suggests that breast cancer in women, younger than 50, tends to be invasive.
• Screening every other year is not enough. Studies estimate that 6,500 additional lives will be lost each year if mammograms become bi-annual starting at 50. Many women have clear mammograms one year, only to be diagnosed with cancer the next. What if these women had waited two years between mammograms?
• 75% of women with breast cancer have no risk factors, no family history, no dense breast tissue, nor obesity or sedentary lifestyle. Quite often (75% of the time), there are no identifiable risk factors. Unfortunately, every woman is at risk for breast cancer.
• Most insurance plans continue to cover annual mammograms at 100% for all women 40+. So, why skip the mammogram? It will only cost you a copay and 30-45 minutes. That is well worth the peace of mind that comes with your annual mammogram.
• Early detection saves lives. Mammography is the only screening tool that has consistently proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Finding breast cancer early gives patients the upper hand. Treatment tends to be less radical, and outcomes are better.
For these reasons (and many more), Eastern Radiologists continues to urge women to begin annual screening mammograms at 40—unless, of course, your physician recommends starting earlier due to family history or other risk factors. Our mammography guidelines match those of the American College of Radiology, which is the authority on imaging-based medical care.
Eastern Radiologists is committed to providing the most advanced technology and comprehensive patient care, including 3D Mammography™, dedicated breast MRI and 3D™ breast biopsy. We invite you to learn more about our mammography services, and we urge you to make sure all of the women in your life are scheduling routine annual mammograms beginning at 40.