The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women should start getting regular mammograms every two years once they reach 50. But new research indicates that might be too late for many women.Ã‚Â Fifty percent of breast cancer deaths occur in women under 50, and 71 percent of them are among women who havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t received regular mammograms, according to a new study in the journal Cancer.
The researchers looked at all cases of women who had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancers at Partners HealthCare Hospitals in Boston between 1990 and 1999, then followed them through 2007. Out of the 609 breast cancer deaths, 71 percent of them were women who either never received a screening mammogram or hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had one in more than two years. And half of all deaths occurred in women who had not even reached the age at which mammograms are suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
The Great Screening Debate So does that mean women should start scheduling mammograms ASAP? While the USPSTF suggests mammograms every two years starting at age 50, many clinicians and organizations disagree. For instance, the American Cancer Society recommends women get annual screenings starting at age 40, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees. For women who have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, the American College of Radiology suggests getting mammograms beginning at age 25-30, or 10 years before the age of the relativeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s diagnosis.
Confused? YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not alone. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is no question that it can cause confusion in women,Ã¢â‚¬Â says lead study author Blake Cady, M.D., professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. Ã¢â‚¬Å“One of the things that happened after the [USPSTF report on new screening guidelines] was the number of women getting screened started to go down as a reflection of that confusion.Ã¢â‚¬Â This might be because women who really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel like getting screened used it as an excuse to put it off, or it could be the case that doctors werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t recommending it as often, says Cady.
Your Plan of Action Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the question of what age you should be when you start getting screened. If you wait until age 50, you may miss out on early detection that could save your life. But screening in younger woman has its risks too, since false positives are much more common, says Cady. That might be why many clinicians urge patients to start screening annually at age 40. The best advice: Know your risk factors and talk to your doctor about when to schedule regular mammograms. And most importantly, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let conflicting recommendations lead you to put off screening altogether.
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