Screening Mammograms Offer Benefits for Women Age 40 to 49

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A study looking at the value of screening mammograms for women age 40 to 49 found two important benefits:

  • The screening mammograms were more likely to find lesions that weren’t invasive cancer but are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer (called high-risk lesions).
  • If the screening mammogram found invasive breast cancer, the cancer was more likely to be at an earlier stage and smaller when diagnosed.

The results were published in the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology. Read the abstract of Neglecting to Screen Women Between the Ages of 40 and 49 Years With Mammography: What Is the Impact on Breast Cancer Diagnosis.

The researchers looked at 108 breast cancers found by biopsy in women age 40 to 49:

  • 71 of the cancers were diagnosed in women who had been getting regular screening mammograms; biopsies in these women were mostly done because of suspicious mammogram findings.
  • 37 of the cancers were diagnosed in women who got no breast cancer screening; biopsies in these women were done because of breast symptoms, such as a lump felt by a woman or her doctor.

The cancers were either DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) or invasive cancer. DCIS isn't invasive cancer. DCIS can be large or small, but stays inside the breast milk duct. It doesn't spread into surrounding normal breast tissue or into the lymph nodes or other organs. DCIS is also called stage 0 breast cancer.

DCIS was much more likely to be diagnosed in the women who were getting regular screening mammograms. This is important since women diagnosed with DCIS have a higher risk of being diagnosed in the future with invasive breast cancer in the same breast compared to women who haven’t been diagnosed with DCIS. Women with DCIS usually have surgery to remove the DCIS and sometimes get other treatments to reduce the risk of being diagnosed with invasive cancer later.

The invasive cancers diagnosed in the women who were getting regular screening mammograms were, on average, at an earlier stage and smaller than the invasive cancers diagnosed in the women who weren’t getting regular screening. This is important because in most cases the earlier the stage and the smaller the cancer, the better the prognosis.

Other studies have shown that regular screening mammograms starting at age 40 means better prognoses for women diagnosed -- and lives saved. Still, despite current guidelines and evidence, many women age 40 to 49 don't get regular screening mammograms.

If you're 40 or older and have an average risk of breast cancer, yearly screening mammograms should be part of your healthcare. If your breast cancer risk is higher than average, you may want to talk to your doctor about a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan that makes the most sense for your particular situation.

There's only one of you and you deserve the best care possible. Don't let any obstacles get in the way of regular screening mammograms:

  • If you're worried about cost, talk to your doctor, a local hospital social worker, or staff members at a mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
  • If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, call the National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (800-227-5463) to find certified mammogram providers near you.
  • If you find mammograms painful, ask the mammography center staff members how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for you.

For more information on mammograms and other tests to detect breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Tests: Screening, Diagnosis, and Monitoring pages.

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