The Benefits of Beginning Breast-Cancer Screenings Early
Apr 26, 2016 07:59AM ● Published by Audrey Sellers
For women, there’s never really been a clear answer: Do I start mammography screenings at age 40, 45 or 50? New research confirms that early detection is the healthiest choice, and age 40 is when to begin screenings.
The American Cancer Society released its 2015-2016 Breast Cancer Facts & Figures, estimating that last year, 231,840 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and of those women, 46,350 (20 percent) were diagnosed under the age of 50. The American Cancer Society cites in its 2015-2016 Breast Cancer Facts & Figures report, “Mammography is the single most effective method of early detection since it can often identify cancer several years before physical symptoms develop.”
The American Cancer Society also states that the decrease in breast cancer-related deaths over the past two decades is almost entirely attributed to mammography detection. Yet new and conflicting recommendations have been released, confusing women on when to start mammography screenings, whether to go annually or every other year, and even whether or not to conduct self-breast examinations.
For nearly 25 years, women have been told to begin regular annual mammograms at the age of 40, and a host of other notable organizations including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology and the Society for Breast Imaging concur that a woman should begin her annual screening at age 40.
Study after study shows that the earlier a woman finds an issue, the better her options and outcomes. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate is 100 percent for women diagnosed with stage 0 and 1 breast cancer.
“Early detection can and does help women under 50 every day. Research shows that women diagnosed with breast cancer between 40-50 years of age typically have more aggressive rates of tumor growth. For these reasons, it’s critical that younger women adhere strictly to the annual screening interval. Simply put, mammography is the closest thing we have to a cure. We’ve come so far in early detection breakthroughs that I see these guidelines as a major setback,” said James Polfreman, president and CEO for Solis Mammography, a comprehensive breast-imaging center.
Solis Mammography patient, breast cancer survivor, wife and mother of four children, Larissa Linton, believes early detection saved her life. She was 45 when doctors found stage 0 cancer. “It’s ridiculous that several groups have recommended that women put off mammograms. Imagine if my cancer had kept growing undetected until I was 50? I might not still be here. I can certainly tell you it would not be stage 0. We need to support women and send a consistent message that 40 is the age to start screenings.”
Because of intense pressure on everyone in the healthcare community to save money, the future is certain to bring new and conflicting opinions about breast screening. Women need to remember that the earlier they find any particular anomaly (not just breast cancer), the better and easier their options for treatment. Early detection has long-term benefits including shorter treatment times; the potential to avoid a mastectomy, chemotherapy or radiation; and overall improved quality of life. In short, women should be empowered with the knowledge to make the best choices for themselves based on their unique health history and primary care physician’s recommendations. Peace of mind, overall wellness and long life all come from early detection.
Check out this infographic for more information on mammograms.