Early breast cancer screening has become a topic of constant controversy. And now, for the first time in more than 30 years, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has updated its mammography guidelines. As announced today in the journal JAMA, the ACS has increased the age at which it suggests women get their first mammogram — from 40 to 45. This is also the point at which the ACS suggests that women start getting annual screenings, though it acknowledges that there may be risks such as false positives. Then, once women reach age 55, the health org says they can dial those exams back to once every two years. However, these guidelines are specifically for women with an average risk of developing breast cancer. For those at higher risk (such women with a family history of breast cancer), more aggressive screening may be recommended, depending on your individual circumstances. What should you do to keep your breasts healthy if you haven't reached mammogram age yet? Although the ACS doesn't formally recommend self-exams, it does suggest that all women become familiar with the look and feel of their own breasts. Because even small, subtle changes — like barely noticeable dimpling, for instance — may hint at something else happening. It's important to stay on the lookout and report changes to your doctors.
But it's not just when we get the first mammogram that matters; how often we should get them has also been a source of debate in the scientific community. In another study published today (this one in JAMA Oncology), researchers actually didn't find a difference in tumor severity between premenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer who were getting screened once every year and those who were screened every two years. But, in women who hadn't hit menopause, no matter their age, those who were screened more often did have less-advanced tumors. So, as F. Perry Wilson, MD, points out at MedPage Today, "it seems that biological age might be more important than chronological age here." Still, although age may be just a number, you should take that number into account in order to stay as healthy as possible — as these new guidelines show.