Susan G Komen  
I've Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer Someone I Know Was Diagnosed Share Your Story Join Us And Stay Informed Donate To End Breast Cancer
Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Early Detection & Screening > Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations for Women at Average Risk

  


Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations for Women at Average Risk

52875-1.gif 

Breast Cancer Detection
Fact Sheet

Mammography is the most effective breast cancer screening tool used today. However, the benefits of mammography vary by age. These benefits are discussed below for women ages:

Figure 3.1 shows the breast cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk from three major health organizations [17,19-20]. Learn about screening recommendations for women at higher risk of breast cancer.   

Figure 3.1: Breast cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk 

American Cancer Society 

National Comprehensive
Cancer Network
 
 

U.S. Preventive Services
Task Force
 
 

Mammography 

Every year starting
at age 40

Every year starting
at age 40 

Informed decision-making
with a health care provider
ages 40-49  

Every 2 years
ages 50-74

Clinical Breast Exam 

Every 3 years 
ages 20-39 

Every 1-3 years
ages 25-39

Not enough evidence to
recommend for or against

Every year starting
at age 40

Every year starting
at age 40

Note: Women at higher risk may need to get screened earlier and more frequently than recommended here. Find more on screening recommendations for women at higher risk of breast cancer.

 

Breast self-awareness messages 

Breast self-awareness messages include knowing your risk, getting screening, knowing what is normal for you and making healthy lifestyle choices. These messages can be used to increase awareness and empower people to take action and make informed choices about their health.  

 Susan G. Komen’s breast self-awareness messages 

1. Know your risk

  • Talk to both sides of your family to learn about your family health history  
  • Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer

2. Get screened

3. Know what is normal for you and see your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):

  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn't go away

4. Make healthy lifestyle choices

 

 

Breast self-exam

Breast self-exam is not recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer. Learn more about breast self-exam 

Mammography for women ages 50 to 69

Figure 3.1 shows the breast cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk.  

For women ages 50 to 69, the life-saving benefits of mammography are clear. Women ages 50 to 69 should have mammograms on a regular basis. Findings from studies (including a meta-analysis that combined the results from seven randomized controlled trials) have shown that women aged 50 and older who regularly got mammograms had a 10 to 23 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer than their peers who did not [11,21].  

Most major health organizations recommend that women 50 to 69 have mammograms every year. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, however, recommends mammography every two years for women 50 to 69 [17]. In 2009, the Task Force reviewed the scientific evidence and concluded that mammography every two years offered almost as much benefit as mammography every year while cutting the risks in half [17]. 

 

For a summary of research studies on mammography in women ages 50 to 69, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.

Trends in screening mammography among women ages 50 to 69

Between 2000 and 2005, screening mammography rates among U.S. women ages 50 to 64 declined from about 79 to 72 percent [13]. The reason(s) for this decline are unclear. Since 2005, mammography rates among U.S. women in this age group have remained stable [13-14]. In 2010, 73 percent of women ages 50 to 64 reported having a mammogram within the past two years [13].  

Learn about disparities in screening mammography.  

Mammography for women ages 40 to 49

Figure 3.1 shows the breast cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk.  

Mammography in women ages 40 to 49 may save lives, but the benefit for younger women may be less than for older women.  

Finding from some studies (including a meta-analysis that combined data from eight randomized controlled trials) have shown that women 40 to 49 who had mammograms on a regular basis had about a 15 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer [22-23]. However, other studies (including nine randomized controlled trials and a meta-analysis) have shown mammography screening in women ages 40 to 49 does not lower the risk of dying from breast cancer [11,24].

Benefits and risks of mammography for women ages 40 to 49

There are a few reasons why mammography may offer less benefit for younger women than for older women. Younger women tend to have dense breast tissue, which can make abnormal findings hard to see with current mammography technology (learn more) [25]. Breast cancers in younger women also tend to grow faster than breast cancers in older women [25]. This means mammography every one to two years may be less likely to catch breast cancers in younger women early, when the chances of survival are highest.  

Women ages 40 to 49 have a lower risk of breast cancer than older women. So, for younger women, there are fewer benefits and some drawbacks of screening mammography, including a high rate of false positive results. A false positive result occurs when a screening test shows there is cancer when, in fact, cancer is not present. Because so few breast cancers occur in young women, those who get mammograms are more likely than older women to have a false positive result. This means they will be told they have an abnormal finding and undergo follow-up tests (such as further mammograms, ultrasounds or even biopsies) only to find they do not have breast cancer.  

Learn more about follow-up of an abnormal mammogram.

Why are there differences in screening recommendations for women ages 40 to 49?

Some major health organizations have concluded that the modest survival benefits of mammography in women ages 40 to 49 outweigh the risks of false positive results and recommend regular mammograms for women aged 40 to 49 [18-20].  

However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine mammography screening begin at age 50 [17]. The Task Force encourages women ages 40 to 49 to discuss the pros and cons of mammography screening with their health care providers. Then, together, they should make a decision on when to start mammography [17]. The American College of Physicians also recommends women ages 40 to 49 talk to their providers and together make decisions about mammography [26]. These decisions should be guided by a woman's breast cancer risk profile as well as her own preferences based on the potential pros and cons of mammography screening [26].  

Read more from our Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Eric Winer, as he comments on the issue of mammography leading to over-diagnosis and over-treatment. 

 

For a summary of research studies on mammography in women ages 40 to 49, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.

Trends in screening mammography among women ages 40 to 49

Between 2000 and 2005, screening mammography rates among U.S. women ages 40 to 49 declined slightly [13]. The reason(s) behind this decline are unclear at this time. Since 2005, screening mammography rates among women ages 40 to 49 have remained stable [14].  

Learn about disparities in screening mammography  

Mammography for women ages 70 and older

Figure 3.1 shows the breast cancer screening recommendations for women at average risk.  

There are few studies on the benefits of mammography in women age 70 and older, and none of these have been randomized controlled trials. The U.S. Preventive Task Force does not recommend routine mammography screening in women ages 75 and older [17]. However, many major health organizations recommend healthy women ages 70 and older continue to get mammograms on a regular basis [19,27]. Breast cancer risk increases with age, and mammography does not appear to be less effective in women 70 and older.  

Some women ages 70 and older stop regular 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 were found) should continue to get mammograms. If there is any question about whether you should continue getting screened, talk to your health care provider.

Trends in screening mammography among women ages 70 and older

Since 2005, screening mammography rates among U.S. women ages 74 and older have remained stable [14].  

Learn about disparities in screening mammography.

Weighing the benefits and risks of mammography

Although mammography saves lives, it does have some drawbacks. Understanding your chances of having a false positive result may help lessen the fear and worry over an abnormal finding on a mammogram.  

The table below shows the chances of some outcomes over a 10-year period for women who get yearly mammograms. In 10 years, between 2 and 6 in 1,000 women will have their lives saved by mammography; a third to a half will have at least one false positive result on a mammogram; and about a fifth will go on to have a biopsy (only a few of these women will have cancer) [28]. 

Estimated number of outcomes over a 10-year period among 1,000 women getting yearly mammography  

Age 

At least one false positive result 

Need for a biopsy  

 Diagnosis of breast cancer 

Lives saved by mammography 

40 years

560

190

15

2

50 years

470

190

28

4

60 years

360

190

37

6

Adapted from Fletcher and Elmore, 2003 [28].

Learn more about weighing the risks and benefits of screening mammography and the debate over mammography.

Updated 05/14/14

 previous 

Breast Self-Exam 

 Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations for
Women at Higher Risk
 

 next 

   

The Mammography Debate 

 next