Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Many women have read or were given conflicting information about the best age to begin breast cancer screenings as well as when to stop having them.

The team of radiologists at Keck Medicine of USC takes a more personalized approach based on a woman’s overall health and unique risk factors for developing breast cancer. Mary Yamashita, MD, a breast imaging specialist and the lead interpreting physician at the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital breast center, recommends women have a breast cancer risk assessment performed at age 30, which helps determine when to start screening.

This assessment helps women understand whether they are at high or average risk for developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Women at average risk should begin screening for breast cancer at 40 with mammograms, and women at high risk should begin at 30. Yamashita said the team suggests these high-risk women should have a mammogram and a breast MRI every year, at six-month intervals.

“We can’t ignore the fact that young women get breast cancer,” said Yamashita, adding that one in six breast cancers are found in women between ages 40 and 49. “Our goal is to find breast cancer early when there are more treatment options and better prognosis, which is why screening is so important.”

Likewise, for older women Yamashita said there is no specific age at which they should stop having mammograms. Instead, screening for breast cancer should continue as long as a woman is healthy and has a life expectancy of at least 10 years.

“We look at a patient’s overall health, not their age,” said Yamashita, noting that she has patients over 80 who still have annual mammograms because they are in excellent health.

The team at Keck Medicine also recommends women be screened every year, even though some doctors and organizations recommend less frequent screenings.

“Ever since we started screening, breast cancer death rates have dropped by 40%, so we know it works,” said Yamashita.

In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, USC-VHH is offering screening mammograms for $99 in October. Call (818) 952-3557 to schedule. It has also scheduled a virtual talk on breast health on Oct. 13 as part of its ongoing Doc Talk Lecture series. See for more information.

Mary Yamashita, MD