In the United States, breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8. The risk of breast cancer increases with advancing age. However, breast cancers are more aggressive (faster growing and spreading) in younger women, especially under the age of 50. For women at the age of 40, the probability of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1 in 69.
The American Cancer Society recently changed their breast cancer screening guidelines:
Women with an average risk of breast cancer – most women – should begin yearly mammograms at age 45.
Women should be able to start the screening as early as age 40, if they want to. It’s a good idea to start talking to your health care provider at age 40 about when you should begin screening.
At age 55, women should have mammograms every other year – though women who want to keep having yearly mammograms should be able to do so.
Regular mammograms should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.
Breast exams, either from a medical provider or self-exams, are no longer recommended.
The guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer. Women at high risk – because of family history, a breast condition, or another reason – need to begin screening earlier and/or more often.
I expect some push back from other leading organizations such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. With my experience as a gynecologist over the last 30 years, I am convinced that self-breast exam and a yearly thorough breast exam by a healthcare provider is beneficial to early detection of breast cancer.