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Breast cancer screening in your 40s

Science tells us that regular mammography to screen for breast cancer is most beneficial for women aged 50 to 69. The benefits for women under 50 are still unclear. Many women in their 40s are interested in going for mammograms early – after all, if they’re good to have in your 50s, why not in your 40s? Start by talking to your doctor about the risks and benefits of regular screening with mammography. Be sure to talk about your family or personal history of the disease. Your history may mean you should start testing earlier or get tested more often.

Our perspective

Women in their 40s should be able to have mammograms at organized screening programs if they are referred by a doctor or a nurse practitioner. Screening programs should have additional resources to make sure that women in their 40s can use these services without affecting mammograms for women aged 50 to 69, where we know that screening is most effective.

  • If you want to have a mammogram

    If you’re in your 40s and want to have a screening mammogram, your options will depend on where you live.

    Organized screening programs offer cancer screening to specific groups of people through an organized program, usually by province or territory. For example, all organized breast screening programs in Canada specifically screen women 50 to 69 years old for breast cancer using mammograms. Some organized screening programs will accept women outside this age range as well.

    At the moment, some organized screening programs will not accept women aged 40 to 49 into their program since the benefits of screening in this age group are still unclear.

    If the organized screening program in your province or territory accepts women in their 40s, contact them or ask your doctor to ask how you can get into the program. An organized screening program will make sure that certain quality standards are met and that there is appropriate follow-up on test results.

    If the organized screening program in your province or territory does not accept women in their 40s, you will need to go outside an organized breast screening program. (This is sometimes called ad hoc or opportunistic screening.) Talk to your doctor about the best way to get a mammogram at a place that is accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists.

  • What science tells us about regular screening in women 40 to 49

    Science tells us clearly that women aged 50 to 69 benefit from having regular mammography. The recommendation for other age groups, including women aged 40 to 49, isn’t as clear. The issue is confusing because there are conflicting results in the research and you may hear different messages from various health and advocacy groups.

    There have been many studies regarding regular breast screening with mammography, but most did not focus on women aged 40 to 49 or were not designed to properly assess whether screening reduced breast cancer deaths in this age group. The studies that were designed for this age group have not shown a decrease in the numbers of deaths in the group of women who had regular mammograms.

    Research on regular mammograms for women in their 40s is still ongoing.

    In Canada, national guidelines have been established based on science that tells us that women age 50 to 69 benefit most from regular breast screening. Organized breast screening programs are working towards a nationally established target of 7 out of every 10 women in this age group to have a screening mammogram.

    In order for all organized breast screening programs to accept women outside the 50 to 69 age range, increased resources (funding, and trained technologists and radiologists) may be needed.



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