When Should I Get My Mammogram?
Confused about when to get a mammogram? Recent government guidelines on breast cancer detection sparked debate among experts. What should you do?
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in American women. Death rates have been declining, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), due to earlier detection through screening, increased awareness and improved treatment.
Source of the Uproar
But last fall, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised that women at average risk for breast cancer 40 years and older should no longer receive annual mammograms. Instead, the panel recommended women begin talking with their doctors about mammograms at 40 and then get them every two years between ages 50 and 74. The task force also said there was not enough medical evidence to recommend mammograms for women older than 75, breast self-exams or clinical breast exams.
Why the change? Some women receive false-positive results from mammograms, leading to invasive procedures for cancers. Government experts also argue that radiation exposure from the mammograms can actually increase cancer risk and cause other health problems.
Staying the Course
The ACS, the American College of Radiology and the Society for Breast Imaging all strongly disagree with the task force's conclusions. Kathleen V. Greatrex, MD, chief of radiology and director of breast imaging at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, maintains that women at average risk should have yearly mammography beginning at age 40, clinical breast exams beginning in their 20s or 30s at least every three years and regular breast self-exams. Mammography helps identify patients at risk for developing breast cancer.
"If women delay getting mammograms until age 50, instead of a lumpectomy or breast conservation therapy, they may need a mastectomy. The risk of mortality also will increase by 3 percent," Dr. Greatrex said. "The incidence of breast cancer in this country is one in seven women. You are talking about quite a number of women who could die needlessly from this disease due to these new guidelines."
For women at increased risk of developing breast cancer due to mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes or a family history, mammograms should begin by age 30. The Society for Breast Imaging also recommends an MRI be performed annually in conjunction with mammography in those patients who carry the gene mutation.
"All women should speak to their physicians about risk factors for breast cancer, mammography and clinical and breast self-exams," Dr. Greatrex said.
Help Prevent Breast Cancer
Monthly breast self-exams are a recommended way for women to monitor their breast health. Call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337) to order your FREE brochure, "Doing a Breast Self-Exam."
Getting Your Mammogram
The Lourdes Health System offers mammography and other women's imaging services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. To make your appointment online,visit www.lourdesnet.org.
Kathleen V. Greatrex, MD To learn more about Dr. Greatrex or another Lourdes expert, call 1-888-LOURDES (568- 7337) or visit the Lourdes Health System Web site at www.lourdesnet.org and click on "Find a Physician."