Even though the recommendations for when to start getting checked for breast cancer differs, a new study has suggested that women who are in their 40s might benefit from annual mammograms. Researchers who evaluated 609 deaths as a result of breast cancer established that about half of them occurred in the midst of women who were diagnosed while they were under the age of 50 years. The study also revealed that most of these women had never gotten a mammogram. Dr. Blake Cady, one of the researchers and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said told the Reuters Health that women should be screened at least once each year while in their 40s.
This recommendation for screening echoes the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines that call for annual mammograms from the age of 40 for as long as one is in good health. However, the US Preventive Service Task Force, which is backed by the government, calls for the women who are at average breast cancer risk to start being screened annually from the age of 50 years old. The task force recommends that the younger women make their own decision on whether they want to be screened. Dr. Virginia Moyer, the chair of the USPSTF, said that the task force knows that there is a benefit for the women between the age of 40 and 49. She was however not involved in the study.
Dr. Moyer, who is also the maintenance of certification and quality vice president at the American Boar of Pediatrics, said that the benefit of being screened while in the 40s is relatively modest. She added that whenever the benefits are modest, one must start looking at the downside. When it comes to screening of breast cancer, the shortcomings include false alarms that can put women through physical and emotional stress and lead to more invasive tests.
Most recommendations for screening are based on the analysis of several and randomized trials that are considered to be the medical research’s gold standards and they follow they groups of the people who are screened or unscreened for a long period of time. However, Candy and the other researchers wrote that these analyses can downplay the real benefits of getting screened. For instance, the people in these groups who are told not to get screened may end up getting screened anyway.
In the study, the researchers conducted a “failure analysis” on the data from the medical records of the 609 women who died as a result of breast cancer. These women were diagnosed in between 1990 and 1999 in one of the two hospitals in Boston and they had died in 2007. According to Cady, the failure analysis is like to what aviation officers do while analyzing the black box of a plane to determine what did go wrong before the accident. During the analysis, the researchers found out that out of the 609 deaths from breast cancer, 29% were from women who got a mammogram two years within their diagnosis. 71% of the deaths were from women who had not been screened. Only 13% of the deaths were from women at the age of more than 70 years when diagnosed, about 50% were from women younger than 50 years at the time of diagnosis.