Age Recommendations For Mammograms Are Not So Black And White, New Studies Say

Two recent studies suggest that women in their forties may have something to gain from mammography breast cancer screening, and that lack of screening in that age-group may disproportionately affect minority women. The U.S. Preventatives Task Force (USPTF) does not currently recommend mammography breast cancer screening for women under the age of 50, based on findings that potential benefits of earlier screening are outweighed by the harms from false-positive results and unnecessary biopsies.

One study supporting earlier screening looked back at data on cases of breast cancer from over a 10-year period to compare women who were diagnosed by mammography to those diagnosed by other means. The study, released by the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that women age 40-49 who were diagnosed with breast cancer by mammography had smaller tumors, less spreading to lymph nodes, and a better overall survival rate.

Another study, from Loma Linda University in California, suggests that recommendations for breast cancer screening might overlook disparities in cancer incidence among different ethnicities. The study found that minorities, particularly Hispanic and Asian women, were overrepresented in younger women who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

"For some Asian women and other minorities, the peak incidence (of breast cancer) is a decade earlier," said Sheldon Feldman, MD, Chief of the Breast Surgery Section at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. According to Dr. Feldman, recommendations for the general population may not be the best advice for all women. Commenting in an article "Mammogram rules may harm younger women, minorities" on msnbc.com in May, 2001, Dr. Feldman noted that if certain populations should take a different approach to breast cancer screening, then regardless of whether USPTF guidelines represent the best advice for a majority of people, those exceptions should be noted: "Whether or not you agree with the general recommendations for average groups, then certainly for minorities and certain subgroups, those recommendations need to be altered."

Read more about screening and treatments for breast cancer at breastmd.org.

Related Link:
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Screening for Breast Cancer

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