Recent controversy over mammograms has forced many women to question not only at what age they should get mammograms, but also whether or not they should get mammograms at all. in 2009, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that routine screening mammograms for women with an average risk of breast cancer should start at age 50 instead of age 40. The recommended changes were very controversial and were not universally adopted.
In light of the recommendation by the task force, the American Cancer Society still recommends that women should begin receiving yearly mammograms at age 40, and that the benefits of mammography heavily outweigh the minimal risks. Most major health organizations conclude that mammography saves lives, especially in women ages 40-49.
The risks of mammography are minimal and include a small amount of exposure radiation, similar to what you would be exposed to during an x-ray at the dentist's office. Mammograms are not the perfect defense against breast cancer, as breast tissue can hide breast cancer. Sometimes a mammogram can even identify an abnormality as breast cancer when it really is not cancerous, resulting in unnecessary tests and follow-ups.
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However, according to breastcancer.org, mammograms have been known to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women older than 50. Another benefit of mammography is that breast cancer can be found in its early stages, not only preventing it from spreading, but also preventing a mastectomy or chemo.
Breast cancer is very treatable with early detection, which requires a yearly mammogram for all women once they reach the age of 40. Even if you do receive an unusual result and are called back to the office, it's important to remember that that does not mean you have breast cancer. Only 10% of women who get mammograms will require more tests, and only 8-10% of those women will need a biopsy. Plus, 80% of those biopsies turn out not to be cancer.
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Despite some ongoing debate, mammography is still the best screening tool used today for the early detection of breast cancer. While any health decision is a personal one that involves weighing benefits and risks, most health organizations recommend women get mammograms on a regular basis.