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Annual mammogram starting at age 40 saves the most lives, study finds

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | August 22, 2017
Challenges USPSTF
A new study published in CANCER revealed that annual mammograms starting at age 40 prevent the most breast cancer deaths.

This challenges the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force’s guidelines for breast cancer screening, which recommend that women between the ages of 50 and 75 receive mammograms every two years.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, New York-Presbyterian and the University of Colorado Medicine used computer modeling to estimate the possible effects of three different screening scenarios. That included annual screening at ages 40 to 84, screening annually at ages 45 to 54 then biennially at ages 55 to 79, and biennial screening at ages 50 to 74.

They found that annual screening at ages 40 to 84 would result in an almost 40 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths. Screening annually at ages 45 to 54 then biennially at ages 55 to 79 led to a 31 percent reduction, and biennial screening at ages 50 to 74 resulted in 23 percent fewer deaths.

According to the researchers, this is the first time the three most widely discussed recommendations for screening mammography have been compared to each other. They believe that women and their physicians can use these findings to guide screening decisions.

The researcher team also considered the risks associated with screening, such as false positives that result in callbacks for additional imaging and unnecessary needle biopsies.

Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society wrote in an accompanying editorial that it’s ultimately an individual’s value judgment as to how many false positive mammograms and biopsies are too many to save one life.

The organization believes that it should be a priority to develop a better test, that overcomes the limitations of mammography. The ideal test in his opinion would be easier to administer and accurate in women of all ages, which would result in fewer false positives, and fewer tumors would be missed.

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