Mammograms Decline

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - 2:18pm

Fewer women in their 40s are getting mammograms.

A mammogram can spot breast tumors, but the age at which women should begin such screening isn't always clear.

New research suggests the number of women in their 40s getting mammograms has dropped since 2009.

That's when a panel of experts commissioned by the government called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggested mammograms should occur every other year starting at age 50, not 40 like past recommendations.

Now one small study finds fewer doctors are recommending mammograms for the 40-something crowd.

"If patients aren't going to be screened in this age group they're going to come in with breast cancer at a much later stage, its going to be much harder to treat, they're going to have to go through more toxic treatments," says Dr. Dona Plecha.

For the record, the task force never said women in their forties should not have a mammogram.

They say they simply didn't think the benefits of the test warranted a blanket recommendation for all women in this age group.

They say the risks, like radiation exposure, false positives and high anxiety, are stronger for women in their 40s.

Other doctors say the earlier you can detect cancer, the better.

"I think we have a very good cure rate for very early stage cancer, and that's what we're shooting for," Dr. Plecha says.

Something experts on both sides agree on: The final decision should be made by a woman and her personal doctor.

Insurance companies still cover a preventive breast cancer screening for women in their 40s.
 

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