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Dr. Carrie Morrison, St. Luke's Hospital

Mammography guidelines for good health

Another new recommendation regarding mammography has been released, and this only adds to the growing uncertainty among women about when to seek this lifesaving screening tool. Some of the "new" guidelines may lead to diagnosing cancer at a later stage, resulting in more drug therapy, more radiation therapy and more late-stage treatment.

Recently, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that women aged 40 and older with average risk should get a yearly mammogram. Previously, the group had said women in their forties could be screened every one to two years.

In 2009, The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force altered its recommendations, saying women aged 50 to 74 with average risk for breast cancer should get mammograms every two years. Previously, the task force had recommended testing every one to two years starting at age 40.

Another group comprised of researchers from the University of California released recommendations based not only on age but also on other factors such as family history and breast density.

As we recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to follow the guidelines for mammograms established by the American Cancer Society and supported by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging. Research shows that breast cancer is most treatable when detected early.

Mammography Guidelines:
  • Age 40 and over:
    • Annual screening mammogram
    • Annual clinical breast exam by a doctor or nurse (This exam should be done close to the time of the mammogram.)
    • Monthly breast self-examination
  • Age 20 to 39:
    • Clinical breast exam by a doctor or nurse every three years
    • Monthly breast self-examination
Screening mammography saves lives, and regular mammograms should remain an important part of women's preventive healthcare beginning at age 40. Along with exercise, good nutrition and an annual physical, monthly breast exams and annual mammograms are important for maintaining good health. Screening mammograms can detect extremely small breast cancers that are too small to discover through breast self-examination or even through clinical breast examination.

Dr. Carrie C. Morrison is the director of breast imaging and mammography at St. Luke's Hospital and a member of ProSight Radiology Group. Call 314-205-6565 or visit her Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on October 6, 2011.

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