New study suggests women get mammograms at earlier age

Published On: Sep 09 2013 04:15:17 PM CDT
Updated On: Sep 09 2013 06:15:00 PM CDT
HOUSTON -

A new study out Monday threatens to re-ignite the fierce debate over when women should have mammograms.

Mammogram screening has been a controversial subject for years, especially since the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended most women should not begin regular mammograms until the age of 50.

This new study suggests lives could be saved if women are screened earlier. But some experts say this new study is flawed and only confuses women even more.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied more than 600 women who died from breast cancer and found half were under age 50.

They found breast cancer that strikes younger women is more aggressive, while less severe in women over age 70.

Researchers also found a third of those who died had received a mammogram, while two-thirds had not.

Some medical experts say regular mammograms in young women could lead to over-diagnosis, which means the screenings may find things that are not cancer, causing unnecessary procedures along with fear and anxiety.

We asked Dr. Jennifer Litton at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center for her reaction to the findings. She suggests mammograms cannot prevent a tumor from developing and encourages a focus on the biology of any tumor once it is diagnosed.

"This study looked at women from 1990 to 1999. That's before we gave anti-estrogen therapy to younger women, that's before we made major advances in chemotherapies that we use. So we need to understand the biology of the cancer that we diagnose and react appropriately," Dr. Litton said.

We also asked Dr. Mehmet Oz to give us his reaction on the findings and when he suggests starting mammograms.

"I tell my own family that age 50 is fine.  Do all the smart things; we don't have a family history, eat well, stay thin. But assuming you're doing all of those things, you can start your screening at age 50. The mammography works better it seems at that age as well," Dr. Oz added.

The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute recommend women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

Doctors do agree it's crucial for patients to talk to their health care professional about family history to help determine when and how often to screen.

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