What You Need to Know
;e rules are no longer cut-and-dried, and di;erent
health organizations o;en recommend di;erent screening
timetables. Analysis of data over the years indicates that
although some cancers may be found through earlier
screenings, the risk of dying from those same cancers is
not reduced. Early screenings can result in false-positives
(indicating cancer is present when it really isn’t), causing
people to undergo additional biopsies and tests, along
with the stress that accompanies them. Or, screenings can
result in false-negatives (results indicate there is no cancer
when there really is), so people think they are ;ne and don’t
get checked out even if they are experiencing symptoms.
Let’s take a look at current recommendations for breast,
prostate, colorectal, and cervical cancers. ;e following
recommendations are for people without known risk factors.
Much confusion, consternation, and uncertainly
have resulted from changes in mammography screening
recommendations by some health organizations. And
what about those breast self-exams (BSE)? Not necessary—
studies show no fewer deaths from cancer by doing BSEs.
Here are some current guidelines (assuming you are at
average risk for breast cancer):
• American Cancer Society: Age 45 to 54, get a yearly
mammogram; age 55 and older, get a mammogram
every year/two years provided you are healthy and
have a life expectancy of 10 years or more.
• American College of Radiology: Yearly
mammograms beginning at age 40 without any
recommended end date.
• U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: At age 50, get a
mammogram every other year; mammograms not
needed a;er age 75.
Bottom Line: According to the American Cancer Society, roughly 12 percent of U.S. women will ultimately develop invasive breast cancer. Your chances of dying from
breast cancer are about one in 37 ( 2. 7 percent), and it’s
estimated that about 40,610 women will die from breast
cancer in 2017. If you don’t like those odds, start annual
mammograms at age 40. Know your breasts, and see your
doctor if you notice something di;erent.
Aside: I’m in my early 60s, and I go to the Mayo Clinic
for my health care. Mayo suggests yearly mammograms
starting at 40, which I have done. I have had a few false
positives over the years, which, of course, resulted in additional tests—including a biopsy—not to mention su;ering
lots of anxiety. I have decided to continue doing annual
mammograms, but do not do a BSE.
It used to be pretty straightforward: without any family history or risk factors, women should start getting mammograms at age 40, guys should ;rst have their PSA levels checked
at the age of 50, colorectal cancer screening for
both sexes should begin at the age of 50, and
females should start getting annual Pap tests
when they turn 18 or when they become sexu-
By Jan Cullinane