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Women's Health

Mammograms No Help Before Age 50

Breast Cancer Experts Tell Women What They Should Do
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What Should Women Do?

WebMD asked each of the breast-cancer experts cited above what they would tell a woman in her 40s to do about breast-cancer screening. Their replies:

Humphrey: "I practice medicine. My own belief is that mammography probably is effective and better than nothing -- but it has risks. It is really important to discuss the risks with women. I tend to recommend it in my practice: mammograms every one to two years. I recommend more frequent mammograms in younger women than in older women, as cancers may be faster growing in younger women."

Goodman: "I do not have a clinical practice, so it's far too easy for me to say what to do from my ivory tower. But my wife and our friends are exactly in that age group. Most of them, not all, are choosing not to have mammograms because they understand that negative consequences are quite probable. It is such a close call with real issues on both sides of the scale. I would never, ever say to someone, 'You should do or not do this.' I would say, 'These are the positives, these are the negatives, you decide. There are real harms and real benefits that come very close to even."

Smith: "This does not change the American Cancer Society's position on mammography." That position: Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.

Miller: "We are not telling women to do nothing. We are telling women to do quite a lot. Women must be trained to perform self exams and, if they are worried, to see their doctors."

Baines: "What I tell women is to be aware of their breasts. We should look for changes and for [differences] compared to the last time we looked. It doesn't require breast self-examination to do this. It is a question of looking in the mirror and saying, 'Hey, one round part of my breast isn't as round,' or 'One part is thicker than before.' Then go to your doctor and insist on a diagnostic mammogram. I know all this is difficult. We need a better tool for early detection."

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