Joelle Reizes - October 30, 2013
Current recommendations for breast cancer screenings by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggest that women begin breast cancer screening every other year starting at age 50. According to the Chicago Tribune, however, a new study is showing that earlier screening may prove beneficial.
The study reviewed the deaths of 609 women who died from breast cancer. Results showed that half of the women were diagnosed before the age of 50 and over 70 percent of them had not previously been screened. Of all of the women who died, 30 percent occurred in women who were diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 49. Earlier screenings and screening more often would have detected more of these cancers and could have prevented some of the deaths.
Dr. Blake Cady, a professor emeritus of surgery at Harvard Medical School suggests that women “should be (screening) about every year in the 40s”. These findings are in line with the American Cancer Society’s current recommendation of annual mammograms beginning at age 40 for as long as a woman is in good health.
Benefits of Early Detection
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancers that are causing symptoms tend to be greater in size and have a higher probability of having spread outside the original area. Detecting cancers before they cause problems usually means they are smaller and more easily treated.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation has accumulated data from several studies and organizations and has shown that some suggest that the benefits for screening younger women may not be as great as screenings for women who are over the age of 50. Younger women tend to have denser breast tissue and this can lead to abnormal findings in mammograms which may then lead to more invasive tests and procedures. However, most major health organizations are now encouraging earlier screenings as even modest increases in survival outweigh the risks.
Women should have a discussion with their doctors to determine if early screening is right for them. Several risk factors, including family history, drinking habits, or history of smoking, can increase the benefits of early screening for women who are at greater risk. Discussing these risk factors and benefits with a physician can help determine the best path to take.