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How to Personalize Your Mammogram

Develop the screening schedule that's best for you based on your health risks

En español | The subject of mammograms hit the headlines again recently — with one study concluding that few lives are actually saved by yearly screenings and another finding that a majority of women get false positive results.

These latest findings, debated among doctors, friends and even celebrities, leave many women bewildered about how often — and even if — they should be screened for breast cancer. And current recommendations are of little help because they are based solely on age — a kind of one-size-fits-all approach to having a mammogram. But age alone doesn't determine who will get breast cancer, and some experts are calling for better, more detailed guidelines that will help a woman and her doctor decide on the best mammography screening schedule for her.

See also: Mammograms have high rate of false positives.

Woman receiving mammogram. Some experts recommend a new approach to screening for breast cancer based on personal risk factors.

Not just age should determine when a woman starts having a mammogram and how often. — Photo by Getty Images

Along with age, screening guidelines should take into account a woman's other health risks — from family history to breast density — when recommending when a woman should start having mammograms and how often, according to a key study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study pulled together the latest findings on breast cancer risks to help women and their doctors make individual decisions about when screening mammograms are needed.

So the standard one-size-fits-all approach may soon give way to tailor-made screening schedules.

Screenings should be personalized — based on a woman's age, breast density, history of breast biopsy and family history of breast cancer, says Karla Kerlikowske, M.D., coauthor of the study and a breast cancer researcher at the University of California in San Francisco. "We chose those four factors because they're prevalent and strongly associated with breast cancer risk," she says. "We wanted to make it both accurate and straightforward." The researchers also addressed the emotional effects of having mammograms because the screenings often indicate there may be cancer when there is really nothing to worry about.

  • Age. The incidence of breast cancer goes up with age. According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman's chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is:

    1 in 69 between the ages of 40 and 49.

    1 in 42 between the ages of 50 and 59.

    1 in 29 between the ages of 60 and 69.

Next: Are you at high risk for breast cancer? >>

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