Screening recommendations for women at average risk vary according to age.
This chart illustrates the different screening guidelines for those at average risk.
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Women 40 – 49
Mammography in women ages 40-49 may save lives, but the benefit is less than for older women. Individual study findings vary.
There are a few reasons why mammography offers less benefit for younger women than for older women:
- Women ages 40-49 have a lower risk of breast cancer than older women
- Younger women tend to have dense breast tissue, which can make abnormal findings hard to see on a mammogram
- Breast cancers in younger women tend to grow faster than breast cancers in older women. This means mammography every 1-2 years may be less likely to catch breast cancer early in younger women, when the chances of survival are highest.
Screening guidelines for women at average risk vary by organization due to the process in which results are studied. Some organizations put weight on different factors related to the benefits and drawbacks of receiving mammography before age 50.
The important thing to note about screening guidelines is that all organizations recommend a woman understand her individual risk of getting breast cancer and follow appropriate screening guidelines as recommended by their doctor.
Women 50 – 69
For women ages 50 – 69, the life-saving benefits of mammography are clear. Women ages 50-69 should have mammograms on an annual basis.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force analyzed the results from six randomized controlled trials and found:
- Women ages 50-59 who got mammograms on a regular basis had a 14 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer than their peers who did not have regular mammograms
- Women ages 60-69 who got mammograms on a regular basis had a 33 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer than their peers who did not have regular mammograms
Women Over 70
Breast cancer risk increases with age, and mammography does not appear to be less effective in women 70 and older. However, there are few studies on the benefits of mammography in women ages 70 and older, and none of these have been randomized controlled trials.
Some women may stop routine breast cancer screening due to poor health. Women who have a serious health problem may not benefit enough from having breast cancer found early to justify screening.
However, women who are in good health and could benefit from treatment (if breast cancer is found) should continue to get mammograms.