Harvard Women's Health Watch

Breast cancer: When and how often to get screened

How do you make sense of conflicting mammography guidelines?

How often do you need to get a mammogram, and at what age should you stop having this test? If you follow the American Cancer Society's guidelines, you'll have yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as you're in good health. The National Cancer Institute recommends mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40. But in 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)—a panel of health experts that reviews screening tests like mammography—released new recommendations, which advise starting mammograms only at age 50, then having the test every other year and stopping at age 74.

If you're confused by the conflicting recommendations, you're not alone. A 2011 survey in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the USPSTF guidelines confused more women (30%) than they helped (6%) when it came to understanding when to get a mammogram.

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