Should I get a mammogram this year?
BY: Michael Castleman
Last November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) caused an uproar when it changed its mammogram recommendations, saying that women at average risk of breast cancer should have mammograms starting not at age 40 but at 50, and not annually but every two years. They cited three reasons:
1. The latest studies show that mammograms are less life-saving than most women believe. To prevent just one breast cancer death, 1,904 women have to be screened annually for 10 years.
2. Mammograms involve radiation, which can increase breast cancer risk.
3. A significant number of mammograms during women’s 40s are false positives, which cause needless anxiety and lead to unnecessary procedures, including costly, traumatic biopsies.
Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology have maintained their recommendation of annual mammograms starting at age 40, and the National Cancer Institute (which previously advised mammograms every year or two starting at 40) decided to re-evaluate their guidelines.
So should you get a mammogram this year? “That depends on your age, your breast cancer risk and when you had your last mammogram,” says Dr. Anne Simons, a breast cancer survivor, family practitioner and clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of California’s San Francisco Medical Center. The best thing to do, says Simons: “Understand the issues, then talk to your doctor.”
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.