When Should Women Start Breast Cancer Screening?

02 Oct 2013 in

There is a lively debate within the medical community to establish standards for when women should start receiving mammograms. This also extends to how frequently follow-up mammograms should be performed. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a panel of experts that recommends health care standards to Congress and others, made a very controversial decision in 2009. They said women between the ages of 50 to 74 should get a breast cancer screening mammogram every two years. They also stated women under 50 should talk to their doctor to evaluate, based on their personal risk, if a screening mammogram was appropriate for them.

This decision caused waves of protest from numerous breast cancer advocacy groups and medical organizations out of concern that the recommendations could lead to more women dying of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society, the American Society of Breast Disease and Komen, amongst others, continue to recommend an annual breast cancer screening mammogram beginning at age 40.

Advancements in our ability to detect, treat and hopefully cure breast cancer are dependent on the work of researchers to better understand this disease. A recently published study in Cancer provides evidence women should begin screening mammograms before the age of 50.

Does a Lack of Breast Cancer Screening Lead to More Cancer Death?

Cancer, a journal published by the American Cancer Society, published a report on September 9, 2013 entitled “A failure analysis of invasive breast cancer: Most deaths from disease occur in women not regularly screened.” Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MIT), Harvard Medical School and other medical centers sought to better understand factors that lead to some women to die of breast cancer. Background study details:

  • 7,301 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 1990 and 1999 were observed through 2007.
  • In this time period 1,705 women died. Of these women 609 were confirmed to pass directly from breast cancer.
  • Only 29% of the 609 confirmed breast cancer deaths had received breast cancer screening (mammogram) within two years of diagnosis.
  • 71% of the confirmed breast cancer deaths were women who had not received a mammogram within two years of their diagnosis.
  • 49-years-old = median age of diagnosis of fatal cancers.
  • 72-years-old = median age of diagnosis for women who passed from something other than breast cancer.

The article concluded with “most deaths from breast cancer occur in unscreened women. To maximize mortality reduction and life-years gained, initiation of regular screening before age 50 years should be encouraged.”

The Importance of Understanding Your Personal Risk of Breast Cancer

I hope this study leads women to engage with their doctor to better understand their personal risk of developing breast cancer. I also believe it is important for all of us to remain active and committed members of the breast cancer advocacy community to ensure a message of awareness is promoted to our family members, friends, neighbors — even strangers!

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to better understand your personal risks of developing breast cancer. Our Risk Assessment Program is specifically designed to help women gain clarity.

Additionally, I hope you can join us at one of our upcoming events, seminars and/or talks. For a full listing please visit our events page.


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