Here we go again, another set of recommendations on when women should start getting mammograms. A few years ago, it was generally recommended that women get their first mammogram at age 40. That was until a government panel recommended that age be changed to 50. Then just last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said they recommend mammograms begin at age 40.
So what’s with all the back and forth? As the director of our Breast Care Center, Dr. Cynthia Sandona explains, there are a couple issues at work:
1. Accuracy & false alarms. Breast tissue at a younger age is “dense” and can make mammography less accurate. As women age the breast tissue is replaced with fatty tissue which makes these mammograms more sensitive to pick up abnormalities. Radiologists have described mammograms of extremely dense breasts “like placing a piece of waxed paper over the image.” Furthermore, many young women have benign breast findings; fibrocystic breast disease/fibroadenomas. These may present as palpable lumps during a self exam or an abnormal finding on imaging. This leads to further investigation that may include breast ultrasound, MRI, and biopsy…which leads to the next issue.
2. Cost. Those who support screening beginning at an older age argue that many health care dollars are spent investigating benign breast disease.
So what’s the bottom line? If another cancer is found it may be worth the earlier screening. Until then, visit your doctor for annual breast exams, perform regular monthly breast self exams and see your doctor if you notice any of the warning signs of breast cancer.
If you need a doctor, find one here.