Here’s when women should be screened for breast cancer

(Alexandra Sifferlin/ Time Magazine) — At age 45. At age 50. Once a year. Once every two years. If you’re trying to find some consensus on when and how often women should get screened for breast cancer with mammograms, you’re not going to find universal agreement.

As confusing and conflicting as the advice seems, the back and forth is leading to a more personalized vision for breast cancer screening that should be more effective for individual women. Rather than blanket statements that can sweep women who are at high risk into the same screening schedule as lower risk women, for example, what’s emerging is a more flexible scheme, after discussion with a woman’s doctor, that’s better tailored to her own risk. The major groups agree that most women should get their first screening between age 45 and 50, and that women with a family history of breast cancer should start earlier.

When mammograms emerged in the 1970s as a tool for detecting breast cancer, it was in the era of the War on Cancer. The early understanding of cancer then—as it still is now—was that finding cancer early, when tumors are still small, leads to the best chance for treating it and helping women live longer. Cancer was stigmatized tremendously at the time and often taboo to talk about, so doctors struggled to get the public to accept the disease and introduce the idea of getting tested as early as possible to control it. The general advice was to screen as early as needed—and as often as practically possible. (…)

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