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Baseline Determination

While some of our sisters pull through on their faith, others channel an unwavering determination that takes them across the finish line.

This is the case for our September survivor, Kelly McNamara.

More than 10 years ago, at the young age of 35, Kelly had a baseline mammogram without having any symptoms or lumps, and without any family history.

As defined by Imaginis - which is a great resource for women's health now in its 20th year - a baseline mammogram is the set of images used as the basis for comparison in later tests.

And from 1980 to 1991, women between age 35 and 39, were strongly advised to get such baseline mammograms to promote early detection. However, guidelines have changed and newer research suggests the exposure to radiation during a mammogram could pose a risk greater than the reward and therefore yearly mammograms should be prolonged until an older age unless the patient is high risk and it’s more necessary. We've discussed this in a previous post.

Also, early-stage breast cancers in younger women seem harder to detect through mammograms. suggests this could be because younger women tend to have denser breasts with less fatty tissue. This density makes it more difficult to spot tumors on a mammogram whereas tumors enclosed by more fatty tissue are more visible.

The American Cancer Society released new guidelines in October 2015 increasing the age to 45 to begin annual mammograms for women with an average risk. Women ages 40 to 45 are now encouraged to undergo a mammogram only if they wish (and after speaking with their doctor) and women 55 and over can go every other year instead of annually (though if they want to go annually they can). In a woman’s later years, mammograms are still recommended so long as she is in good health and expected to live another 10 years.

Mammogram guidelines weren't the only breast cancer screening recommendations to change. An even bigger change came with the removal of breast exams, both self-exams and by a medical professional, which are no longer recommended. (BTW we respectfully disagree with that, as we explained in the same post we included above and we've also discussed the importance of visual self examination in previous posts like this one.) Regardless, none of these guidelines or recommendations are the same for patients at a higher risk (i.e. family history), and also, no two women are the same anyway so despite the guidelines most organizations (and we) encourage each woman to speak to her doctor for a more personalized approach.