September 19, 2013
Boob Squishing At Age 40
On September 14, 2012, I wrote an article that identified the issues in recommended cancer screenings. Part of that article discussed mammograms and the age at which women should begin having them. See, in 2009 the United States Preventative Services Task Force released findings that stated that the practice of annual mammograms should be moved from the age of 40 to 50. After this, doctors and women alike rallied against what a bad decision this was. Then in June of 2012, the American Medical Association supported starting annual mammograms at age 40.
On September 14, 2013, exactly one year later after I wrote that original article, I found more information on the benefits of annual mammograms at age 40. According to one redOrbit article, “the majority of deaths from breast cancer occur in younger women who never received regular mammograms.” Moreover, survival rates have increased due to mammograms. National Public Radio (NPR) further reports, “Women should get screened for breast cancer in their 40s, a study concludes, because they face a greater risk of death when cancers aren’t found early.” To support this, the article explains that the study found that “Seventy percent of the women diagnosed with cancer in their 40s who later died hadn’t had a mammogram, compared to 50 percent of women in their 60s. Half of the cancer deaths in the study were in women who had been diagnosed before age 50.”
So the discussion about women’s health continues. When is the best time to start receiving annual mammograms for our health? On the one hand, the US Preventative Services Task Force of 2009 says that starting mammograms at age 40 could lead to more false positives, which could bring on unnecessary anxiety and lead to unnecessary biopsies. On the other hand, this alleged overdiagnosis (which, by the way, has been refuted by doctors, the AMA, and breast cancer organizations nationwide) might just be worth it since women who had received mammograms before and were later diagnosed with breast cancer were less likely to die from it than those who were diagnosed but had never had a mammogram.
Okay, so to clarify: mammography could lead to a false positive, but it also often identifies breast cancer before it becomes so aggressive that it leads to death. Sure, the false positives bring anxiety and fear, but the lives saved are worth that, aren’t they?
Harvard Medical School Professor Emeritus of surgery, Dr. Blake Cady, said of the issue, ““The biological nature of breast cancer in young women is more aggressive, while breast cancer in older women tends to be more indolent. This suggests that less frequent screening in older women, but more frequent screening in younger women, may be more biologically based, practical, and cost effective.”
I stand by my continued dictate that what is most important about studies like this is that we, as patients, have a voice and have control over our health. We should know what the different sides have to say about any issue, mammograms and breast cancer especially. We should know that some think early mammograms lead to false positive while others have found that the earlier we start mammograms, the more likely we are to defeat cancer and not be defeated by it. When we know these things, we can better determine what to do for our own health.
It is important to know our family health history and talk to our doctors about breast cancer screening and prevention especially when we learn new findings such as this one. The sooner we have a voice in our health and health care, the better. Knowing the pros and cons leads to better discussions and decisions about when to start yearly mammograms.
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