A new report shows that women should get a mammogram every two years once they reach age 50. Interestingly, the report also suggests that routine screening before age 50 may be of little value.
The report, which comes from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (an independent organization consisting of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine), suggests that there’s minimal value in having women get screened for breast cancer while still in their thirties or forties. This is a controversial position, as The American Cancer Society currently recommends women start getting mammograms at age forty.
So, why might it be a bad idea for a forty-something woman to get a mammogram?
The report suggests that these exams can lead to false alarms, thereby spiking anxiety levels and causing stress-related illnesses. They can also lead to unnecessary biopsies and the treatment of tumors that pose little threat to a woman’s life.
The report points to a number of startling statistics. First, while starting mammograms at age 40 prevents one death for every 1,000 women screened, it leads to more than 500 false alarms. The report goes on to suggest that roughly 1 in 5 women with a detected tumor will be over-diagnosed—meaning they receive unnecessary and often costly treatment.
Furthermore, the report says that almost half of women have breasts so dense that mammograms are rarely effective in properly detecting cancer.
That’s why the task force’s chairman, Dr. Michael LeFevre, says screening “is most beneficial for women ages 50 to 74.”
But that’s not likely to make The American Cancer Society change its position. It’s expected the organization will release its own report on age and mammograms later this year.