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Doctors recommend women begin receiving mammograms at age 40 and get them once every two years until the age of 50, when they should start getting annual mammograms. Still, there are some doctors who are advising their patients to undergo a baseline mammogram ahead of age 40. Some women wonder whether it's just more unnecessary testing, or whether a baseline mammogram is another tool to help diagnose breast cancer in its earliest stages.
Medical opinion varies with regards to baseline mammograms. The American Cancer Society once spent nearly a decade touting the benefits of baseline mammograms as an essential element of screening for breast cancer. According to the National Women's Health Network, the ACS didn't have any scientific evidence to support the benefits of a baseline mammogram. The ACS eventually withdrew its support of the baseline mammogram in 1992. Nevertheless, the baseline mammogram message reached the ears of many health practitioners and has remained embedded in their diagnostic protocol.
Doctors who continue to recommend baseline mammograms say they should be done around age 35. A baseline mammogram is an initial mammogram that provides an image against which future mammograms are compared. It will indicate young breast tissue before it has been affected by aging. In many cases, changes to breast tissue is very subtle, and it can help to have previous mammogram images so doctors can compare and detect changes that may be signs of something like cancer. Some doctors argue that patients who do not have baseline mammograms are more likely to need extra views, follow up exams and biopsies. If prior mammograms are available for comparison, less study and examination is necessary.
Those against baseline mammograms may say their efficacy as a preventive measure is suspect. Although some women have had cancer diagnoses from baseline mammograms before the age of 40, in many cases the baseline mammogram simply may cause added anxiety and further testing for no reason.
It is largely up to the patient to decide if she wants to undergo a baseline mammogram. It is important to check with your health insurance provider, as coverage for any mammograms done before the age of 40 may be subject to advance approval or not covered at all.