Do Younger Women Need Mammograms, Too?



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If you're concerned about breast cancer — maybe it runs in your family, maybe you have a friend who is a survivor, or maybe you're just afraid — you're probably wondering when to begin getting mammograms and how effective they are in detecting cancer rates.

There's been a lot of back-and-forth in the health world lately about just what you need to know about mammograms and your breast health. First, people said you should get mammograms starting at 40. Then we heard that was too early — that women should really wait to start getting regular mammograms closer to 50, unless they had a family history of the disease. Well, what's the truth?

Breast cancer is far less common in women in their 40s than in women over 60, but the seriousness of breast cancers that develop in younger women is much greater than that of the older set — perhaps become when cancer strikes early, it is sometimes particularly aggressive.

With that in mind, it makes sense that the latest word is that you should start in your 40s. In women who discovered their breast cancer and later died from the disease, a full 70 percent of them had never had a mammogram. In women over 60 who had breast cancer and later died from it, only 50 percent had never had one. Some of this difference might be due to differences in cancer aggression, but some of it is also likely due to better, earlier detection leading to better outcomes.

Dr. Daniel Kopans, an author of the new study, says he understands that early screenings can lead to anxiety, but that they're essential for women to protect themselves. He says early screening "absolutely saves lives. You reduce the death rate by 30, 40 percent, if you start screening at age 40." (NPR)