In recent news, mam-mograms are in the spotlight. But for many years, they’ve been a passionate topic for lots of women.
Recently the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new mammogram screening recommendations. They now suggest that women between ages 50 and 74 need screening mammograms every two years and women younger than 50 and older than 74 no longer need mammograms at all.
Previously it was recommended that all women get a screening mammogram every year after the age of 40. The new recommendations have stirred up quite a bit of controversy.
I have heard from women who were diagnosed with breast cancer prior to the age of 50 and who are living today as a result of the previous screening recommendations. I have also heard from women who are in opposition to mammograms altogether and are in favor to less frequent screening recommendations.
The new task force recommendations are based on a review of the literature and factors of risk vs. benefit. In their review they found the following evidence: Mammographic screening reduces breast cancer mortality in women ages 39 to 69, radiation exposure from mammography is low, screening leads to overdiagnosis rates of 1 to 10 percent, and false-positive results are more common in younger women.
This information led to the new recommendations.
The response from the medical field is in opposition to the new recommendations.
Breast cancers that occur in women younger than 50 tend to be more aggressive. and early detection is critical for positive outcomes. Screening exam recommendations are made based on numbers and statistics.
Fewer women are diagnosed with breast cancer prior to the age of 50, so mammograms seem less critical in this age group. However, excluding this age group from screening will increase incidence of breast cancer related death in premenopausal women, and this is tragic.
I do have a number of patients who are in opposition to the practice of screening mammograms because of the radiation exposure associated with the exam. These women are limited to self and clinical breast exam for breast cancer screening, both of which have limited effectiveness at detecting breast cancer early. Mammography does involve radiation exposure to the breast.
While the literature does show that the benefit safely exceeds the risk of possible cancer induction, there is still advised caution for women under the age of 50, particularly those with a history that may indicate a genetic susceptibility. The conundrum is that this population is at higher risk of developing an aggressive cancer, and the need for a good screening tool is imperative.
Despite the new recommendations by the task force, most doctors are maintaining the old breast cancer screening schedule, with annual mammograms for women ages 40 and older. If you fall in this age range, take the time to have a conversation with your doctor to determine the best screening schedule for you.
Mammograms have the potential to save your life. Determining a good risk-versus-benefit ratio needs to happen on an individual basis to prevent exclusion of an entire at risk population.
I work with women who have breast cancer on a daily basis and know the benefit that early detection and treatment make on overall outcomes.
We need to take the matter into our own hands and initiate the conversation with our doctors, because our lives are worth it.
Dr. Christina Amicone is a resident physician in naturopathic medicine at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and St. Vincent’s Cancer Care. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send naturopathic health questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.