The Breast Cancer Test Women in Their 40s Can't Afford to Skip

woman getting a mammogramHow could we ever forget the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommendation that women in their 40s skip mammograms? We scoffed at it, railed out about it, and eventually blew it off, hoping insurance companies, the American Cancer Society, and our OB/GYNs would do the same. But ever since 2009, that alarming claim has haunted patients and clinicians who want to do everything they possibly can to bolster a woman's chances for early detection of breast cancer. Hence why plenty of researchers have taken it upon themselves to prove the worth of mammograms. 

It sounds like a new study published in the journal Radiology has done that. Study author and a breast cancer survivor herself Judith Malmgren from the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine found that breast cancers in women aged 40-49 that are diagnosed by mammogram have a better prognosis than those detected by docs or even women themselves. Why?

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Because they're being diagnosed earlier, while the breast cancer is in an earlier stage, which makes for a better prognosis, Malmgren says.

She and her colleagues looked at almost 2,000 women who had breast cancer, all aged 40 to 49 when they were treated between 1990 and 2008, and all of whom had invasive cancers. Check out some of these striking stats they came up with:

  • 92 percent of the women whose cancer was found on mammogram survived without recurrence at five years.
  • Women whose cancers were detected by mammograms were more likely than the doctor- or patient-detected cancers to have lumpectomy or other breast-conserving surgery: 67 percent vs. 48 percent.
  • The women whose cancers were detected by mammograms were less likely to be given chemotherapy.
  • While 4 percent of women whose cancer was found on mammogram died during a follow-up period that ranged from one to 20 years, 11 percent of those whose cancers were found by the doctor or the women died.
  • There was a decrease found in cancers being diagnosed at later stages in those whose cancers were found on mammograms.

And as Malmgren points out, treatment for cancers in later stages is "where the money is." Shouldn't the aim then be to detect cancer sooner and save women not just emotional strife and physical pain but thousands of dollars on costly treatments? You would think/hope that would be the case at least.

Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be much debate as to whether or not women in their 40s should be getting mammograms -- Task Force "recommendation" or not. What's more, Malmgren's study seems to serve as a strong assurance that mammograms save time, stress, money, and most importantly, lives.

Do you believe women in their 40s should be getting regular mammograms?

 

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