To screen, or not to screen? That is the question prompted by a recent study of young women and mammograms.
In 2009, the US Preventative Service Task Force said that women should receive regular mammograms at the age of 50. As NBC reported, another study earlier this year showed that women over 50 don’t need to have annual mammograms. Now, The Today Show noted a new study put together at Harvard Medical School, showed that some women who died of breast cancer before the age of 50 had never been screened.
The research team looked at 7,301 cases of women that were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1990 and 1999. The results showed that of the 609 women who died of breast cancer, 65% of those women had never received a mammogram. The team concluded that earlier screenings could have saved many women's lives.
However, not all experts are on the same page. The National Cancer Institute said that in some cases, a mammogram can’t catch a tumor fast enough to save someone with breast cancer, so even someone who undergoes regular screenings may still be just as susceptible. Many women who have the cancerous genetic trait have to face this fact, like actress/director Angelina Jolie.
As the NCI says, “Even though mammograms can detect malignant tumors that cannot be felt, treating a small tumor does not always mean that the woman will not die from the cancer. A fast-growing or aggressive cancer may have already spread to other parts of the body before it is detected.”
The issue is that mammograms detect slow-growing cancers, and younger women are more susceptible to developing “killer cancers,” making mammograms less beneficial to their potential diseases.
The big question here becomes when is the appropriate age to have a mammogram screening? Both The American Cancer Society and the NCI suggest that women should start to have annual screenings at the age of 40. Reflecting on the findings of Harvard's medical team, thoughts of breast cancer can scare women at any age.
Do you think this is a real issue for younger women? Should they be screened earlier than the age of 40? Let us know! For now, I think I'll be sticking to my self-exams.