For years, it's been medical protocol that women get a baseline mammogram at age 35 and a yearly one starting at age 40. But recently the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), cited by the government as an "independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention," raised questions by issuing a recommendation that women between the ages of 40 and 49 not get yearly mammograms.

Based on an examination of data, the USPSTF claims that, in too many cases, mammograms lead to false positives while other mammograms miss malignancies that are growing. It maintains that individual decisions about mammograms should be made based upon a woman's personal risk of breast cancer along with any concerns she may have about the physical risks that radiation carries as well as the emotional risks of enduring a false positive. For women between the ages of 50 and 74, the panel recommends screening every two years.

The American Cancer Society, however, sees things very differently. In a rebuttal to the USPSTF's recommendation, the ACS announced that its own panel of experts had reviewed much of the same data that the USPSTF panel reviewed. The ACS concluded that while mammography sometimes yields false positives, the fact that the technology saves lives is reason enough to keep recommending widespread screening. According to the ACS, 17 percent of deaths from breast cancer occur in women in their forties, and 22 percent of deaths occur in women in their fifties. "Breast cancer is a serious health problem facing adult women, and mammography is part of our solution beginning at age 40 for average risk women," the ACS said in its statement. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurs with the American Cancer Society, releasing its own statement that it would continue to recommend mammograms every year or two for women 40 and older as well as monthly self-exams.

The decision to get a mammogram is a highly personal one based on several factors. If you have concerns or questions about the pros and cons of mammography, be an informed consumer. Assess your family history of breast cancer, and stay on top of the latest research and how it's interpreted by various medical groups. Finally, enlist your doctor for help in making this important decision.


Sources: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force,; American Cancer Society,; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,