How Often Do You Really Need a Mammogram?
October 6, 2021
September 16, 2021
New research frequently adds to the debate over mammography and breast cancer detection. Respected national organizations have differing guidelines on when to begin mammograms and how often to repeat them. The pandemic has certainly added further uncertainties. It's easy to understand why people have questions about this important health-care decision.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Radiology, and Society of Breast Imaging recommend annual mammograms for women at average risk of breast cancer—which is most women—starting at age 40. The American Cancer Society says screening should begin by 45, with the choice to start at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there’s no need for regular screenings until age 50—and then every two years. At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health we have adopted the 2015 American Cancer Society guidelines as a compromise amongst the various dichotomous guidelines.
Talk to Your Doctor about Mammography
While not all organizations agree on screening guidelines, most share one important recommendation: meet with your doctor to determine the right course of action for you and to not ignore getting regular mammograms. Your provider can offer balanced, up-to-date information and discuss your personal breast cancer risk and the role of breast self-awareness in helping to identify abnormalities or changes. Armed with this information, you can make an informed decision and feel confident about your choice.
Mammograms During the COVID-19 Pandemic
During the pandemic, some people have concerns about the safety of screening locations and how COVID-19 vaccines may affect their mammograms.
During the pandemic, some people have concerns about the safety of screening locations and how COVID-19 vaccines may affect mammography.
- Health-care facilities have robust safety measures in place (masking, cleaning, physical distancing) to keep people safe. Don’t delay this lifesaving screening!
- Because COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary inflammation and swollen lymph nodes in the armpit that may show up on a mammogram, unless you have symptoms like a suspicious lump, schedule your screening mammogram:
- Before receiving Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen single-dose vaccine or the first dose of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, or
- 4 weeks after your second shot (Moderna, Pfizer) or single shot (Johnson & Johnson)
- However, if you get a booster vaccine, continue with your screening mammogram as originally due. Do not delay just because you received a booster vaccine.
The Bottom Line: Mammography Saves Lives
Some studies of women in their 40s and 50s show that screening mammograms decrease breast cancer deaths by 15 to 29 percent. While mammography isn't perfect, it is the best breast cancer screening tool available and saves lives. Schedule your mammogram.
Nitin K. Tanna, MD
Nitin K. Tanna, MD, is a radiologist at Lancaster Radiology Associates and serves as chief of mammography and breast imaging services at Lancaster General Health. A graduate of the University of Rochester and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Dr. Tanna is a frequent community speaker on breast imaging and mammography, and has authored several articles on breast screening.