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The Verdict on the Mammogram Debate

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Mammogram Procedure

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The Verdict on the Mammogram Debate

WHEN SHOULD I START GETTING MAMMOGRAMS?

The rule of thumb has always been that a typical, healthy woman without risk factors should start getting annual mammograms at 40. However, women with BRCA mutations or a family history should begin as early as 30—but not before the age of 25.

The new mammogram advice that came out in November suggested that every woman have a mammogram procedure starting at age 50 and every other year for cancer prevention purposes. The most recent study, however, backs previous research. "There have been seven trials that have taken two groups of women, where one group gets treated as usual and the other women get that plus mammography," says D'Orsi. "What all these trials found is that the death from breast cancer was significantly decreased in the group of women that got mammography."

WHAT ARE THE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH RADIATION?

One of the issues raised by the federal Preventative Services Task Force was that too much exposure to radiation from mammograms could actually do more harm than good—hence why the new mammogram advice in November advised women not at an increased risk for breast cancer to receive fewer screenings and wait until later in life. It's true that radiation from mammograms can potentially increase the risk of cancer, but by such a small margin that the benefit—detecting cancer early on—far outweighs the risk—not detecting it, or detecting it too late. So what’s your risk? If you have a genetic mutation or family history, your chances of developing breast cancer are higher, but according to the National Cancer Institute, a typical woman without a genetic mutation or family history has a 1 in 233 chance of developing breast cancer in her 30s, a 1 in 69 chance in her 40s, a 1 in 38 chance in her 50s and a 1 in 27 chance in her 60s.

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