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Screening mammograms should begin at age 40


blog mammogram debate

For years, debate in the medical community has focused on the appropriate age for women to begin routine mammograms.

The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force in 2009 recommended that women wait until age 50 for their first mammogram, sparking the most recent debate. Those who believe screening mammograms should begin at age 50 argue that mammograms are less sensitive in younger women, leading to unnecessary breast biopsy and causing anxiety in women.

As a physician specializing in the treatment of women with breast cancer, my opinion is that every woman age 40 and older should have an annual screening mammogram. I have seen the benefits of mammography far outweigh the risks for many women.

In my many years of practice, I have never heard a woman complain of a negative breast biopsy that showed her she did not have cancer. My view and the view of the American Cancer Society remain that the benefits of prevention awareness and early detection far outweigh any concerns.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that 71 percent of women who had died as a result of their breast cancer did not have a mammogram prior to diagnosis. Half of the breast cancer deaths occurred in women who were younger than 50.

The researchers tracked 7,301 breast cancer cases at two Boston hospitals from 1990 to 2007. The results of the study help demonstrate what I have seen in practice for more than 40 years: Screening mammograms can save lives. Cancers detected by screening mammograms are smaller, generally have a much higher survival rate and require simpler treatment.

Learn more about breast cancer, including the symptoms and risk factors.

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