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Remember back in November 2009, when the United States Preventive Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that instead of getting regular mammograms at age 40 that women began to get them at 50? Well, that debate is still not resolved and has left many women – including their doctors – a little confused. It leaves the question: what do you do in regard to breast screening?
It didn’t help to clear matters when a Swedish study was published that confirmed that if women received mammograms earlier – at 40 years of age – that there is a 26 percent risk reduction for breast cancer. An additional Scandinavian study confirmed that mammography screening did in fact reduce the risk of mortality by 10 percent. But even before this study, it was already well-known and confirmed that mammograms do help in the detection of certain cancers. For most doctors, mammograms and the monthly self-examinations are the first and strongest defense against this disease.
What is lesser known, however, is the fact that mammography is not a perfect screening process. Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, stated that there have been many other studies that revealed that mammograms had no real value in the age group of 40-49. She felt that prevention is the real issue that deserves more attention for this particular age group. A professor of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, Dr. Lee Green, mentioned the fact that there were even cases of misdiagnosis resulting in unnecessary procedures and invasive surgeries. This was directly linked to a false-positive mammogram. He further emphasized the need to know both sides – how many patients were helped and harmed by mammograms.
All of that still leaves the question to us who are patients: what do we do? Organizations like the American Cancer Society recommends annual screening for women 40 and over. The National Cancer Institute recommends screening every one to two years starting at this age. Scientists responsible for the latest studies in this area did not make any kind of recommendation at all. So once again, patients must take an active stance in commandeering their own health issues.