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Clearing the confusion about mammograms

The bottom line: Mammography saves lives. Various organizations may not agree perfectly on screening recommendations, but don’t use that as an excuse to throw up your hands and do nothing.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year, an estimated 209,060 Americans will be diagnosed with breast cancer; more than 40,000 will die from the disease.

“Mammography is one of the few screening tools that has been proven to save lives. Every woman over 40 should at least begin a discussion about screening with her doctor,” says Mark Helvie, M.D., director of breast imaging at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Here’s what everyone does agrees on:

  • All women 50-74 should receive regular mammograms.
  • Mammography may be the right choice for women in their 40s. While many groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, continue to recommend routine screening, others advocate a discussion between women and their health care providers.
  • Yearly or every other year? Many groups continue to recommend annual exams. The difference of opinion comes down to a balance between benefit and harm. Annual screening saves more lives but at a cost of more harms. Talk to your doctor about your options.
  • Women at very high risk for breast cancer may benefit from additional screening with MRI.

Early screening may be particularly important for African-American women, a study from U-M researcher Lisa A. Newman, M.D., M.P.H., found. Black women were on average seven years younger than white women when diagnosed with breast cancer, and among women younger than 44, breast cancer occurred more often in black women than white women, the researchers reported. Furthermore, among women ages 40-49, African Americans were diagnosed with biologically more aggressive patterns of breast cancer compared to white Americans.

“Early detection of breast cancer is the most powerful determinant of outcome, and is especially important for women facing an increased risk of developing biologically aggressive disease. Our study emphasizes the need to continue intensive breast cancer surveillance among African-American women ages 40-49,” says Newman, director of the Breast Care Center at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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To schedule a mammogram, call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 800-865-1125.

 

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