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Value of Mammograms for Women in their 40s

Posted 9/13/2013

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  Here is one moe article in the seemingly endless debate about the value of mammograms. Do they ever save lives? If so, how often? At what age should women begin regular screening? How often should screening be done? Does the kind of mammogram machine matter? On and on, it goes, and almost the only agreement is that the experts do not agree.

  A recent report from MGH suggested that mammograms prevented some deaths in women in their 40s who were regularly screened; their cancers were detected sooner and (seemingly) successfully treated. Their peers who were not screened had a higher incidence of death. Before you jump to any conclusions, read on:

Study suggests women in their 40s benefit from mammograms, but doubts linger

More than a quarter-century after women were told to get annual mammograms beginning at age 40, researchers still don’t agree on whether the screening X-rays significantly reduce a younger woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer. Studies have produced conflicting results.

A new analysis from Massachusetts General Hospital researchers suggests that mammograms prevent breast cancer deaths in women in their 40s by detecting some cancers in an earlier, more curable stage than cancers detected in women who don’t get screened.

At first blush, the findings published online in the journal Cancer, seem to make a strong case in favor of mammography screening for younger women. But there are some serious limitations in the study design that cast doubt on the findings.

The resesarchers analyzed 609 breast cancer deaths that occured at hospitals in the Partners HealthCare system between 1990 and 1999 and found that more than 70 percent of the deaths occurred in the 20 percent of the women who weren’t getting regular mammograms.


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