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Women getting mammograms younger, more often: Study

April 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Getting yearly mammograms is how 48-year-old Cindy Warden of Glendale stays on top of her breast health.

So in 2009 when a government task force recommended she wait until age 50 and then go every other year, she ignored it.

"I think it's about loving yourself enough and respecting yourself enough to take 10 minutes out of your day, one day a year, to do something that could essentially save your life," she said.

For Warden, that awareness paid off. A mammogram picked up on irregular cells in a lump she felt. Six months later, another mammogram revealed the cells were spreading and she needed surgery immediately.

"I don't think anybody should wait a couple of years to have a mammogram. It's something that needs to happen every year," Warden said.

A new Journal Cancer study finds many women agree with Warden, a finding experts like breast surgeon Dr. Deanna Attai find surprising.

"Everyone predicted that mammography rates would just drop," she said.

In the study, researchers looked at the data of 28,000 women in the years 2005, 2008 and 2011. What they found is that overall mammogram rates rose ever so slightly even in women ages 40 to 49.

"A lot of women are not comfortable with going every other year or waiting until they're 50," said Attai.

The U.S. Preventative Services task force said women under 50 wouldn't benefit because they tended to have dense breast tissue, making X-rays harder to read. It also said yearly screening exposed women to unnecessary radiation.

But experts say until researchers can figure out the best way to screen individual patients, many women will continue to be screened once a year.

Doctors feared insurance companies would cut back on paying for mammograms. In Attai's practice, so far that hasn't been an issue.

Warden hopes mammograms remain affordable because she truly believes it saves lives.

"It's like the first step to really check to see if something is there," she said.

Attai reminds us that every woman is going to have individual risks and general recommendations can't address them. She says women need to have a discussion with their doctor about how often they should screen.


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