Study: Women Should Get Mammograms Before Age 50

Study: Women Should Get Mammograms Before Age 50

Women Should Get Mammograms Before Age 50

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women (other than skin cancer). A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts that is used to help detect breast cancer in its early stages, before a lump can be felt.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that women in their 40s should NOT get routine mammograms, which was a departure from other health agencies, which typically recommend screening begin at age 40.

Now, a new study once again recommends initiating mammograms before age 50, citing their findings that unscreened women accounted for 71 percent of breast cancer deaths over an 18-year period. They also noted that median age at diagnosis of fatal breast cancers was 49 years, compared with 72 years for women who died of other causes.

In all, the researchers found that more than two-thirds of breast cancer deaths occurred in younger women who had not received mammograms or those with two or more years between screenings.

“Our findings suggest decreasing the intensity of efforts to screen women older than 69 years while concomitantly emphasizing efforts to screening young women in particular,” the researchers said.

When is Mammogram Screening Right for You?

This is a personal decision that you should discuss with your doctor, taking into account your breast cancer risk factors and age. Because all x-rays expose you to radiation, there has been some concern that regular mammograms may actually increase your risk of radiation-induced cancer. This is a real risk, albeit most likely a relatively small one.

One unrelated study found, for instance, that annual mammography screening of 100,000 women from age 40-55, and biennial screening after that to age 74, would result in 86 radiation-induced cancers, including 11 fatal cancers, and 136 life years lost. They estimated that in the same group, 497 lives and 10,670 life years would be saved by earlier detection.

Keep in mind, too, that mammograms are only one type of screening that are important for women. You can learn about the most important health screenings for women depending on your age here.