Mammograms help catch early-stage cancer

LOS ANGELES As the director of Cancer Services at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, 55-year-old Melina Thorpe's job is to take care of the patients,

So when doctors reminded her that it was time for her mammogram, she put it off because of other appointments.

"I made an appointment, and when it showed up on my calendar that day I canceled it, I was busy," she said.

But something told Melina not to put if off. Her mammogram detected a small mass, and a biopsy confirmed it was breast cancer.

"I know the best cancer is no cancer, but the second best cancer is the cancer that is found early, so that's what we want to do. We want to find these cancers early so we can save lives," Melina said.

Doctors say if Melina skipped her mammogram, it might have been a while before she was diagnosed. The American Cancer Society recommends women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40, but now the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is recommending women to wait until they are 50 and only go every other year.

Aside from the U.S., most countries do not support mammography under the age of 50. Some studies show it exposes women to unnecessary radiation. It doesn't always detect tumors in younger women with dense breast tissue, and researchers say yearly screening may lead to unnecessary biopsies.

Oncologist Jennie Shen says this recommendation is a step backward and will cost many women their lives.

"Mammograms can detect cancers earlier, more often smaller, node negative, where we have a higher chance of cure, and we have many more options available for treatment," said Shen.

Melina had a lumpectomy and she's undergoing radiation. Her tumor was caught so early, doctors are confident she will be among the 99 percent cured.

"All my prognostic indicators are good because we caught it early so that's my message," said Melina.

Many experts are concerned that these new recommendations may change the way Medicare and insurance companies reimburse mammograms. However, the new recommendations are heating up the debate on when and how often a woman should get a mammogram.

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