A: Good Question.
The US Preventative Task Services Task Force last made recommendations in 2009. They are in the process of updating their recommendations for 2015; but there is little change from the previous advice.
The task force advises getting screening mammography every two years, starting at age 50 and continuing to age 74. In particular, women aged 60 to 69 are most likely to avoid death from breast cancer through screenings.
They believe screening from 40 to 49 years has little benefit after taking into consideration adverse consequences like false positives and un-needed biopsies and overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis means being diagnosed with a cancer that would not be a threat to you during your lifetime.
However, they council women in the 40 to 49 to talk to their doctor to determine if there are any factors, like a family history of breast cancer, that might call for earlier testing.
For screening mammography in women 75 years or older, they say the evidence is lacking on any benefits or harms from biannual screening.
Last July, a panel of the National Cancer Institute concluded that improved screening has resulted in the over-diagnosis and over-treatment of cancers that are not life-threatening, without significantly reducing the death rate from the disease.
Remember these recommendations are for screening tests, which means getting tested when there are no symptoms. You’ll want to get checked If you have symptoms such as:
- Skin changes, such as swelling, redness,
- An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
- Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- General pain in/on any part of the breast
- Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast