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When should you get a mammogram?

At what age and how often should women get mammograms? There is no "one size fits all" answer.

If you are a woman in her 40s, you might be confused about mammograms.

Just when women should undergo the test has been a matter of debate for decades.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that "average-risk" women should begin at age 50, then repeat the mammogram every other year.

"The trials and scientific evidence show benefit really starting at 50," said Dr. Heidi Nelson, a professor at the Oregon Health and Sciences University.

Nelson led the review that resulted the recommendation. Her work was featured in The New York Times.

"Quite honestly, most women in their 40s who have biopsies don't have cancer," Nelson said.

But that isn't the end of the mammogram question.

At the medical school, Dr. Karen Oh, professor of diagnostic radiology and director of women's imaging, said she wishes women would start having the test at age 40

"If you want to save the most lives, improve the mortality the most, you would screen annually from 40 to 84," Oh said.

The American Cancer Society has added to the confusion, recommending annual screenings at 45.

When it comes to mammograms, the answer of when to begin the test and how often comes down to weighting the benefits and harms.

" False positives, so you get called back but you don't have cancer, or biopsies that you don't need or anxiety that you don't necessarily want to have.," Oh said.

So the answer is that there is no perfect answer. About 80 percent of the women who have breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Scientists don't know what causes it.

So there is no "one size fits all" recommendation on mammograms. Women should discuss their options with their doctors.

"We need you to be a part of that decision to make sure your values are brought into play, to make sure no harms are done unnecessarily," Nelson said. "It's a close call."

But remember: If you do have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor will likely recommend earlier mammograms.

In some cases, those screenings could begin for women in their mid-20s.



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