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Mammogram Controversies -What age and how often?


MammogramThe short answer from Omaha Surgical Consultants: for an average risk woman, get your first mammogram at age 40 and get one every year.

Lately there has been a lot of noise about what age a female of average risk should be to have her first mammogram.  Is it 40 or is it 50?  Also, there has also been some questioning on whether a yearly mammogram is really needed, or if every-other year is sufficient. The American Cancer Society supports “average risk” women beginning yearly mammograms at age 40.  The U.S. Protective Services Task Force (USPSTF) under the Affordable Care Act recommends screening age to begin at 50 and only perform mammograms every other year and that they should stop at age 74.

So why does the USPSTF have different standards? Unfortunately, their goal is to save money by decreasing the cost of needle biopsies that might be false negatives and potentially cause unneeded anxiety to those awaiting the results of biopsies. Since the advent of screening mammograms, we have seen the mortality rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer significantly decrease. Early detection is a key factor in improving the chances that breast cancer can be treated successfully and with more treatment options, less extensive surgery, and ultimately a better outcome.  In other words, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. The size of the breast cancer and how far it has spread are key factors in predicting the prognosis of some one with the disease.

For cancers found at later stages, larger in size their course of treatment tends to be more invasive and more extensive surgery.  Late stage cancer are significantly more costly to treat than early stage breast cancer and with less favorable outcomes.

So if early detection can save lives, why wait until 50?  Or why wait an extra year for the disease to potentially spread and be detected at a later stage?