Should mammograms begin at 40 or 50?



By Yume Photo via Flickr with Creative Commons

 Earlier this year I went in for my annual mammogram. There was some cause for concern so I had an ultrasound. There was still cause for concern so the doctor scheduled me for a needle biopsy. When it came time for me to have the biopsy, I was given another ultrasound and a different doctor (at the same clinic) told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and I did not need the invasive needle biopsy after all.

I rather dread my annual mammogram, which is now a semi-annual mammogram because I’ve had this false scare.

The A U.S. health task force stunned much of the medical world and many women in November 2009 by recommending that most women didn’t need to get their first mammogram until age 50. I had my first at age 35 because my OBGYN recommended it.

A new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll finds that women in their 40s want their mammograms, and two-thirds of them weren’t even aware of the task force’s recommendations.

About 57 percent of women surveyed believe mammograms should start at age 40, according to the poll of 1,083 U.S. women over 18 years of age conducted April 18-20, while just 12 percent thought that 50 was the right age to start getting the imaging tests.

Specifically, 45 percent of the women polled said the task force pushed back the recommended age to 50 to reduce health-care costs and avoid administering unnecessary tests, while 30 percent believe the task force made the recommendation because excessive tests produced too many so-called false-positive results, leading women to unnecessarily think they had cancer when they did not.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force bucked long-standing advice 17 months ago that yearly mammograms should start for women when they turn 40. The task force said mammograms for women in their 40s led to too many false-positives, unnecessary worry and biopsies, and relatively few lives saved.

Instead, the task force recommended routine mammograms every two years for women ages 50 to 74. Women in their 40s were advised to discuss their breast cancer risk factors with their doctors and make a personal decision about whether to get screened or not.

Despite widespread news coverage of the task force recommendations, the new poll found that 66 percent of women in their 40s hadn’t even heard about the recommendations. And 72 percent of women in their 40s disagreed with the new recommendations after being told about them.

The new recommendations aside, many women in their 40s are still getting mammograms — 77 percent of women in their 40s have already had at least one mammogram, while 64 percent reported getting one annually, the poll found.

The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual mammograms for women starting at age 40.

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