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Breast Cancer Health Center

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U.S. Health Officials Agree on Mammograms

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Feb. 22, 2002 -- Women, begin getting mammograms at age 40 -- that's the word from federal health officials. After all the controversy, both the NCI and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are hoping to settle the debate with an advisory issued yesterday.

After reviewing all studies of mammography -- including a recent report in The Lancet that found possible flaws in earlier studies -- the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that there is "at least fair evidence that [mammography] improves important health outcomes and concludes that benefits outweigh harms."

In a news release, the NCI said it has "carefully considered issues raised in The Lancet review. It has also considered recent deliberations ... of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and has consulted with a variety of experts in the field in order to determine whether a change in its position is warranted."

The NCI's recommendation:

  • Women in their 40s should be screened every one to two years with mammography.
  • Women aged 50 and older should be screened every one to two years.
  • Women who are at higher than average risk of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about whether they should begin screening before age 40 and the frequency of screening.

Monitoring and evaluating new data on mammography will be one of the NCI's highest priorities, according to the news release.

"The NCI is determined to continue to address the uncertainties in the analysis of complex information surrounding screening mammograms," said the release.

The agency is also "strongly committed to further research on early detection of breast cancer," said NCI director Andrew von Eschenbach, MD. "While we will continue to be vigilant in reviewing data on mammography, we must emphasize research to develop more effective screening tools and strategies that hold promise for improved detection of breast cancer and, ultimately, for saving lives."

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