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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Researchers Question Mammogram Guidelines

Mammography Detects Breast Cancer at Earlier Stage in Younger Women, Too

Risks, Benefits of Annual Mammograms in Younger Women

Daniel B. Kopans, MD, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, says, "This paper reinforces what many of us have been saying ever since the USPSTF guidelines were issued. Mammography screening saves lives and women should be encouraged to participate from age 40."

A study that used computer models showed that as many as 100,000 lives would be lost unnecessarily among women who are now in their 30s if the USPSTF, rather than the American Cancer Society, guidelines were followed, he tells WebMD.

But George F. Sawaya, MD, says that the researchers fail to mention potential harms -- including anxiety, unnecessary biopsies, and unnecessary treatment of cancers that would never become life threatening -- against which one might weigh benefits. Sawaya was a member of the Task Force but stresses that he is not speaking on its behalf.

"Women aged 40 to 49 years are not omitted from the USPSTF guidelines. The recommendation for women under 50 years is to make individualized decisions based on benefits and harms," says Sawaya, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Caughran counters, "Ask a woman if she'd rather go through the anxiety of an unnecessary biopsy or miss a cancer, and I think she'd pick the former."

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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