Harvard Women's Health Watch

Research We're Watching: Older women can wait two years for next mammogram

How often should you have a mammogram? That depends on which medical group's recommendations you follow. The American Cancer Society says all women over 40 should have this breast cancer screening test once a year, but the CDC and USPSTF say once every two years is fine for women ages 50 to 74. A study published online in February in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute adds credibility to the biennial recommendation for women older than 65. The study looked at breast cancer outcomes in 140,000 women (ages 66 to 89). Women who had a mammogram each year had a 48% risk for false-positive results (finding cancer where there is none), compared with a 29% risk in women who had the test every two years. Plus, the chance of the test finding a late-stage breast cancer was similar in both groups. This study suggests that older women can have similar outcomes—and a lower chance of a false-positive result—if they wait an extra year to have a mammogram. But ultimately, the decision on how often to screen should be individualized. Based on your breast cancer risks, ask your doctor how often you should have a mammogram.

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