By Dr. Regina Brown
The current recommendations on mammograms are somewhat controversial. In 2009, the United States Preventative Task Force (USPSTF) published new breast cancer screening recommendations. They suggest screening start at age 50, every two years, up to the age of 75 years.
The previous advice was for all women over the age of 40 to receive a mammogram every year. The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) continues to use this guideline. Also recommending these standards are University of Colorado Health’s Breast Diagnostic Center in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley, one of only six breast diagnostic services in Colorado to receive the American College of Radiology Center of Excellence designation.
The USPSTF concluded insufficient evidence exists to assess benefits and harms of mammograms at 40. These differing standards have left many women unsure of what to do.
As a medical oncologist, I treat patients with breast cancer every day. I recommend starting mammograms at 40. Unfortunately, I see the results of women who elect not to get mammograms. The advanced and often incurable cancers are the most gut-wrenching.
If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, start your screenings 10 years earlier then when they were diagnosed. For example, if your mother was diagnosed at age 45, start your screening at age 35.
I believe screenings should be yearly. I often see significant changes in a patient’s mammogram from one year to the next. This could ultimately be the difference between needing oral hormonal therapy versus chemotherapy.
ACS states that one in eight women will suffer from breast cancer at some point in their lives. There are certain risk factors to be aware of like age, family history of breast cancer, being overweight, lack of physical activity, smoking, and dense breast tissue.
Even if these don’t apply, all women are at risk. Healthy women get diagnosed with breast cancer every day. A mammogram can detect breast cancer up to two years before you or your doctor feel a lump. The most compelling data shows that survival rates top 98% when detected early.
One final note for awareness: A lot of false information has been circulated online regarding thermal imaging, sometimes called infrared. There is no scientific data that shows thermograms are an effective screening tool for detecting breast cancer.