Mammograms Benefit Younger Women
Reduce Risk of More Aggressive Breast Cancer
Jan. 2, 2003 -- Since regular mammogram screenings are the most effective way to detect breast cancer tumors in their earliest stages, when they are most curable, it stands to reason that they should benefit all women, right?
Not exactly. Until now, there has been little evidence and much debate in the medical community about how much these screenings actually benefit women in their 40s -- for whom breast cancer is the leading cause of death.
The controversy stems from some studies that have shown that mammograms for women in their 40s do not save lives. And some doctors doubt the benefits of mammograms in younger women because breast cancer in these women is more likely to be advanced -- making early detection less useful, researcher Tim Byers, MD, tells WebMD.
As a result, some healthcare givers don't push for yearly screenings for this vulnerable age group as fervently as they do for older women.
But a new study by Byers and colleagues may help change that. They found that women between ages 42 and 49 who got regular mammograms at least every two years were more likely to have early-stage breast cancer -- making treatment easier and potential cure more attainable.
What's more, when cancer was detected, it was usually found so early that it would not have been detected by other means, such as a noticeable lump. These findings will be published in the Jan. 15 issue of Cancer.
"We were not surprised by our findings," says Byers, with the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
"Even though mammography reduces the risk of death and suffering from breast cancer, it does not eliminate it by any means. We need to both encourage mammograms and also find better ways to
diagnose breast cancer even earlier and to prevent breast cancer from occurring at all."
This study shows that even for women in their 40s, regular mammograms matter because they may find breast cancer earlier, and, thereby, improve prognosis and opportunities for more effective and less radical treatments, lead researcher Sandra Buseman, MD, MSPH, tells WebMD. She is now working for the Albany County Health Department in New York.
In their study, they followed 247 premenopausal women who were diagnosed with breast cancer during the course of the six-year trial. Half had had at least one mammogram within two years before the study began, while the others had no screenings.
About 40% of the screened women were later found to have later-stage tumors, compared with 52% of the unscreened women. After accounting for other factors that affect breast cancer risk, such as family history or estrogen use, the researchers determined that women in their 40s who get regular mammograms are 44% less likely to develop an aggressive breast cancer. This benefit would likely translate into decreased deaths from breast cancer among women in their 40s, say the researchers.