A new study by Mass General researchers supports initiation of breast cancer screening with regular mammograms before the age of 50. The American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of breast cancer include yearly mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing for as long as a woman is in good health.
“Most deaths from breast cancer occur in unscreened women," according to the study's authors including Daniel B. Kopans, MD of the Mass General Department of Radiology and Barbara L. Smith, MD of the Mass General Department of Surgery.
"Furthermore, detecting and treating breast cancer in younger women to prevent death may further increase the disease-free life years saved," they added.
In the study of 7,301 breast cancer patients:
- Among the 609 confirmed breast cancer deaths, 71% occurred in "unscreened" women whose last mammogram was over two years ago (6%) or who had never been screened (65%)
- 50% of the breast cancer deaths occurred in women under the age of 50, a population in which breast tumors typically grow more quickly compared to older women
In a recent statement, the American College of Radiology says that the study "confirms the need for greater use of annual mammography in women ages 40-49...it also confirms that, even with new therapeutics and protocols for treating breast cancer, regular mammography screening is still the best way to significantly reduce breast cancer deaths."