Dr. Amy Patel

As new guidelines for screening mammography are released regularly, the conflicting information confuses women about when to start, stop, and how often to have a mammogram. Because data demonstrates that early detection of breast cancer improves surgical outcomes and saves lives, Dr. Amy Patel, medical director of Liberty Hospital Women’s Imaging, believes it is important to dispel the myths that surround mammograms.

“As of now, the only tool with scientific evidence of reducing breast cancer deaths is screening mammography,” said Patel. “That is why it’s so important to know when to have one.”

All women should be risk assessed by age 30. High-risk women are those who have a personal history of breast cancer or have a first-degree relative (mother, sister or daughter) with a history of premenopausal breast cancer. Other risk factors include inherited gene mutation, dense breast tissue and obesity.

Because research shows that African-American women have a higher risk of aggressive breast tumors and Ashkenazi Jewish women are more prone to inherited gene mutations, it is recommended they should be risk assessed no later than age 30.

One in six breast cancers will be diagnosed in women aged 40 to 49. The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening mammography in average-risk women beginning at age 40 and continuing as long as the patient is in good health. There is no cut off age to stop mammography screening.

“Women in their 20s and 30s also are diagnosed with breast cancer, so it’s important for women of all ages to be aware of how their breasts look and feel and report any changes to their primary care provider immediately,” Patel said.

To that end, Patel recommends monthly self-breast examinations. A firm, hard immobile mass that can be felt in virtually any position is a sign that evaluation may be needed.

Although it is rare, men also are susceptible to breast cancer and should be evaluated if they experience similar symptoms.

The National Cancer Institute reports that since mammography became widespread in the 1980s, the U.S. breast cancer death rate in women has dropped nearly in half.

“Early detection saves lives, so it’s important for women to take screening seriously and know when to be screened,” Patel said.