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Breast Cancer Screening: New Study Suggests Benefit of Early Mammograms

Update Date: Sep 10, 2013 10:39 AM EDT
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Whether women in their 40s benefit from getting mammograms to detect breast cancer is quite controversial, but a new study attest that more frequent screening in this age group is beneficial.

The research was performed on 7,031 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer at several Boston hospitals between the duration of 1990 and 1999. They were followed until 2007.

Of the 609 women who died from breast cancer, 71 percent were the ones who had not undergone regular breast cancer, or were never screened even once.

50 percent of those who died of breast cancer were younger than 50 years.

Breast cancer tends to be more aggressive in younger women, but less aggressive in older women, said Dr. Blake Cady, a professor emeritus of surgery at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The study is the latest to weigh in on the debate over what age breast cancer screening should begin. Three years ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force had recommended that women ages 50 to 74 should receive a mammogram every two years. However the American Cancer Society still recommends yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.

The new study is also facing criticism for overlooking screening rates among who survived. The results show “only half the story,” said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice. “If, among women who live, 30 percent were screened and 70 percent were not, everyone would agree that screening had no effect,” Welch said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mammograms every two years for women ages 50 to 74. Women ages 40 to 49 should speak to their doctor about when and how often to undergo mammogram screening, the CDC says.

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