According to this N. Y. Times Article a recent study suggest healthy women with no unusual risk factors for breast cancer should start regular breast cancer screening at age 50, not age 40 as previously suggested. The study also suggests women have mammograms less frequently – every two years as opposed to yearly.
The guidelines were based on new data and were aimed at reducing the potential harm from overscreening. In order to formulate its guidelines, the task force used new data from mammography studies in England and Sweden and also commissioned six groups to make statistical models to analyze the aggregate data. The models were the only way to answer questions like how much extra benefit do women get if they are screened every year.
The article states:
It was still a tough call to make, according to Dr. Berg, the task force chairman. Adding that “we pointed out that the benefit will be quite small.” In fact, he added, even though mammograms are of greater benefit to older women, they still prevent only a small fraction of breast cancer deaths.
Different women will weigh the harms and benefits differently, Dr. Berg noted, but added that even for women 50 and older, “it would be perfectly rational for a woman to decide she didn’t want to do it.”
But the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology both said they were staying with their guidelines advising annual mammograms starting at age 40.
One point to consider in this debate is that while early detection can result in lives saved, mammograms and even self breast exams can be anxiety producing. They can also give false-positive results. Younger women have denser breast tissue making a correct diagnosis more difficult.
Ultimately the choice of when to start regular screenings should be up to you and your physician. What are your thoughts on this?