In fact, screening mammography is the only screening test for breast cancer that has been shown in multiple scientific studies to improve breast cancer survival. If ALL women age 40 and older underwent yearly screening, the death rate from breast cancer would decrease by 35-40%.
Although the benefits of early detection of breast cancer are well known, there is still considerable controversy concerning the age at which women should begin screening, and how often.
Once again the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) has added to this confusion, recommending that women undergo regular screening every other year from ages 50-74. Although the USPSTF recently claimed its updated recommendations were scientifically based, a close examination of the data suggests otherwise.
Not only does an analysis of the multiple randomized-controlled clinical trials show a significant benefit of screening beginning at age 40, but newer computer models, based on digital technology, confirm that beginning annual breast cancer screening at age 40 saves the most lives.
Some organizations believe that the harms of screening – false positives, unnecessary biopsies and over-diagnosis – may outweigh the benefits, particularly in younger women.
Experts at Intermountain Healthcare, one of the nation’s top healthcare systems, however, strongly believe that the harms are minimal and overstated.
At Intermountain, about 10 percent of women are called back for additional imaging, which is not really a harm or an over-diagnosis. Of one thousand women who undergo screening at Intermountain facilities, only fifteen to twenty will undergo a needle biopsy, and of those, about four to five will have breast cancer.
When surveyed, most women feel that the anxiety related to supplemental testing is worth the peace of mind, regardless of the outcome.
If we fail to routinely screen women under 50 and over 75, many years of productive life will be unnecessarily lost to breast cancer. In fact, 40% of the years of life lost occurs in the 40 to 50 year-old age group. Failing to screen healthy women over age 75 also results in delayed diagnosis and unnecessary death, as the incidence of breast cancer increases with age.
We all must use the available tools of breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment to fight this deadly disease. Simply put, annual screenings after the age of 40 saves women’s lives.