At least according to research released this week.
As a woman in her 40s, who knows several people in their 40s who are currently battling breast cancer, and several more who are at risk for the disease, it is growing incredibly frustrating that the medical community keeps changing the recommendations for breast cancer screenings.
And it happened yet again this week.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force had advised women to get mammograms every other year starting at age 50. This recommendation was largely based on data which suggested that incidence of breast cancer is declining because of factors that are unrelated to mammograms. The worthiness of more radiation which comes from more mammograms was put into question, as well as whether more mammograms might lead to more “false positive” results, which in turn could lead to more unnecessary procedures.
Fortunately, despite the USPSTF recommendation, many professionals and organizations (such as the American Cancer Society) continued to advise women to get annual mammogram screenings once they reach age 40. Their continued advice to get a mammogram starting at age 40 has likely saved many lives.
After going through several years of fertility treatments and being on a smorgasbord of hormones, I opted for a baseline mammogram at the age of 35. I could not wait another five years for that peace of mind.
This week researchers at Harvard University revealed the results of a study which showed that half of 600 women they studied who died of breast cancer were under age 50. Of those women who died, 71% had not had a mammogram before their diagnosis.
Personally, while I do question the amount of radiation of getting annual mammograms, I cannot even imagine waiting until the age of 50 to get a mammogram given the vast information we have about the disease. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women ages 20 to 59. As mammography rates have increased over time, more cases of breast cancer have been diagnosed early, which leads to stronger survival rates. Until we have a better way to detect breast cancer without radiation, why take the risk of not finding out?
Regardless of whether you get regular mammograms at age 40, 50, or somewhere in-between, it is absolutely vital to make sure that you are also doing regular self exams. I was recently reminded of this upon hearing that a friend is battling the disease, having found it herself just a few months after her regular mammogram. Her age does not matter. What matters is that had she not continued to do self exams, she would not have found that lump. And because she found that lump when she did, she will be around to see her children grow up.
It is estimated that in 2013 among U.S. women, there will be 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 39,620 breast cancer deaths. Cancer does not know (or care) how old you are, so take care of your body and your health regardless of your age.
Please note that this post is intended to share information and ideas, as well as to create conversation. Please consult a medical professional before making changes to your lifestyle.
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