Study Reinforces Benefits of Mammograms for Younger Women

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More than 70% of deaths from breast cancer are in women aged 40 to 49 who don’t get regular mammograms, a large study suggests.

The study was published online on Sept. 9, 2013 by the journal Cancer. Read the abstract of “A failure analysis of invasive breast cancer.”

The value of routine screening mammograms -- especially for women aged 40 to 49 -- was questioned in November 2009 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that routine screening mammograms for women with an average risk of breast cancer should start at age 50 instead of age 40. The recommended changes were very controversial and were not universally adopted.

Since that time, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all have issued guidelines saying that all women should be eligible for screening mammograms starting at age 40.

To discover more information on the value of mammograms, the researchers who did this study used a technique called failure analysis. In failure analysis, the researchers looked backward after death to see if all the people who died from a disease had anything in common when they were diagnosed. Only one other failure analysis on cancer has been done.

In this study, the researchers looked at information on 7,703 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1991 and 1999. The women were followed until 2007. The researchers also looked at how often the women got mammograms. Women were considered to have gotten regular mammograms if they had one every year or every 2 years. Women who had mammograms that were more than 2 years apart were put into the unscreened group.

During the follow-up period, 1,705 of the women died, 609 of them from breast cancer. Of the women who died from breast cancer:

  • 71% didn’t get regular mammograms or had never had a mammogram
  • 50% were younger than 50 (only 13% were 70 or older)

The researchers pointed out that breast cancer diagnosed in younger women is often more aggressive and harder to treat than breast cancer diagnosed in older women, which makes mammograms that much more important for younger women.

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 should 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 your 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, visit the Breastcancer.org Mammograms pages.

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