Annual mammograms

In the last year, updates in recommendations for breast cancer screening have caused some confusion about when and how often a woman should have a mammogram. Experts from the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine stand firm on their recommendations that most women should begin annual mammograms at age 40.

“There is no question about it - diagnosing breast cancer early saves lives,” said Dr. Emily Sedgwick, director of breast imaging in the Smith Breast Center at BCM. “Mammograms have helped us reduce the number of deaths, allowing us to detect at a stage where the cancer is more treatable.”

Sedgwick said while the November 2009 recommendations from the United States Preventative Task Force have “muddied the water” about at what age, and how often, a women should receive a mammogram, there has been tremendous support from the breast cancer community to continue screening at age 40.

The Task Force recommended most women should begin biennial routine breast cancer screening at the age of 50. Those who may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer should consult their physicians about when they should begin screening.

“Major cancer organizations, including the Society of Breast Imaging, American Cancer Society and American Association of Cancer Research, oppose these guidelines,” said Sedgwick. “The clinical community does as well.”

For the 40-49 year range, mammograms are extremely beneficial, Sedgwick said.

Additionally, a majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history or other high risk factors, so only screening the high risk populations will miss a major group, said Sedgwick.

“Delayed diagnosis can also mean a huge financial burden for the patient,” said Sedgwick. “Treatment of cancer in the more advanced stages means more invasive, expensive treatment and management.”

Advances in mammography have led to improvements in the detection of breast cancer, Sedgwick said. “With digital mammography technology, we are able to diagnose cancer at earlier stages in younger women and in women with dense breast tissue, in whom breast cancer may be more difficult to detect.”

Sedgwick emphasized that all patients must have a physician order to set up a mammogram.

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