How Often Should Women Have a Mammogram?


Ryan Polselli

Ryan Polselli

How often should women have a mammogram?

There is so much confusion about this question! I want to try to answer for both healthcare professionals AND patients in the simplest way that I know…

In the past, the general answer was simple…”When you turn 40, get a mammogram every year until you die.” In 2009, a group of healthcare professionals, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (aka USPSTF), gave their best attempt at crunching some numbers to determine the value of the mammogram in terms of risks and benefits. Their recommendation was…”Beginning at age 50, get a mammogram every other year until 74.”

Once they came out with their recommendation, all hell broke loose in the medical field and there has been confusion ever since.  So what happened? Why is there not agreement?

Both groups have argued back and forth about the science and statistics…the sensitivity, specificity, true and false positives, receiver operating characteristic curves, and various other concepts requiring an advanced degree to understand. However, the essence of the difference between the two groups is a difference in human values of what is actually harmful versus what is actually beneficial.  The USPSTF places more emphasis on the harm that arises from unnecessarily diagnosing and treating a suspicious area of the breast (the so called false positives) than the benefit that arises from diagnosing and treating a cancer. The result is a recommendation for fewer mammograms.

While this may not sound that bad, the problem is what follows as a result. The USPSTF acknowledges that with a decreased frequency of screening mammograms beginning later in life, more women will lose their life to breast cancer.

And so it goes…

In general, the opinion of those close to breast cancer will strongly favor the traditional recommendation. This is on reason why the official recommendation of the American Cancer Society remains…”When you turn 40, get a mammogram every year for as long as you are in good health.”

Ryan Polselli, M.D.

Breast Imaging Radiologist

**Please note, high risk patients should see their doctor and may have different recommendations.

About Ryan Polselli

Ryan Polselli designed MammoLink® to send a portion of every mammogram back to the community to the charity chosen by each patient. "Our current healthcare system forces patients to jump through an endless number of hoops to take care of themselves. It would be hard to design a more inconsiderate, inconvenient, and inefficient system. The system "bends" patients, often unreasonably, to fit the needs of the system, rather than "bending" to the needs of the patient. It is time that we completely redesign a healthcare system that puts patients first and gives patients complete control so that they can best take care of their health. This is especially true in the field of breast cancer screening and diagnosis." --Ryan Polselli, M.D., Diplomate of the American Board of Radiology, Fellowship Trained Breast Imaging Radiologist, Founder and CEO of MammoLink®
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