Health & Medical Women's Health

Breast Cancer Screening Facts - The Truth About Getting a Mammogram

Over many years there has been much discussion about screening women for breast cancer.
What age should we start screening, at what cost and risks? Should women be encouraged to do self exams? Are they a good first line of defense? When should a woman begin getting mammograms and how often? Numerous factors were addressed with shifting concerns about how well we were doing with early detection.
Clearly early detection of breast cancer makes for a better outcome even curative in many cases.
The lengthy discussion over many years has been distorted by concerns about cost versus benefit, possible gender bias, and inadequate data.
The latter lead to sharp disagreements among the experts to whom we looked for guidance.
Last year a particularly heated debate ensued when a government task force made recommendations contradicting many well respected authorities and specialists in the field.
Fortunately there has been some light shed on the problem by a recently published study in Sweden.
The study reviewed results of a million women between ages of 40 and 49 screened with annual mammograms and followed for 16 years.
A considerable undertaking such as this was more easily done in a country where the culture and government has a more substantial commitment to health care.
The radiologists in Sweden have been considered on the forefront of mammography for many years.
The results were surprisingly good.
By using the "real-life" experience of so many women over so many years a 29% reduction in breast cancer mortality was found.
This is very meaningful particularly by the sheer number of lives saved and in a group where screening has not historically been encouraged in the U.
The conventional wisdom which was in fact arbitrary and not based on clear data was to start annual screening at 50 years of age.
The American Cancer Society, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are all behind the recommendation of beginning annual screening at age 40.
The publication of the Swedish study findings should clearly make the case for the wisdom and cost effectiveness of screening women at age 40.
We have the technology that can save significant number of lives if we have the political will.
Although this news is considered a landmark study, there no doubt will be discussion about the cost.
Insurance companies that control and direct a large segment of healthcare in the U.
continue to be tentative about coverage without it being mandated in each state as it has been in the past.
Let there be no mistake about the ability to save lives, treat disease earlier and more effectively by mammography.
Regular self exams and annual screening mammograms should be the standard of care.
As always prevention and early detection is substantially cheaper than after the fact treatment of possibly advanced disease.
With 40,000 breast cancer deaths a year in the U.
, the American Cancer Society emphasizes the need for continued "support for research to find better screening/diagnostic tools and better treatments that would make this current discussion a footnote in cancer history".

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