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Should women wait till 50 to get mammograms?

April 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tennis great Martina Navratilova says she was shocked when she learned of her breast cancer diagnosis on February 24. Three weeks ago, she underwent a lumpectomy and will follow with radiation treatments. She says finding out she had breast cancer was the biggest surprise of her life.Tennis great Martina Navratilova revealed for the first time on "Good Morning America" she has early stage breast cancer and is undergoing treatment.

The tennis champion is very active as an AARP health and fitness ambassador. At first, she didn't want to reveal her diagnosis. But since a mammogram saved her life, Martina realized she had to speak out.

"I am lucky that this DCIS apparently had just started in the last year," said Navratilova. "If it had started three years ago I would have been in deep trouble. It would have been chemotherapy and the cancer would of spread."

The American Cancer Society recommends women get their first mammogram at 40 and follow with yearly screening. Back in November, the U.S Preventive Task Force recommended women wait to get their first at 50 and then get one every other year.

Radiation exposure from annual X-rays and too many false positives that cause undue anxiety and testing were just some of the reasons for the recommended change.

"If you detect breast cancer at an earlier stage, chances of survival is over 90 percent," said oncologist Dr. Nubar Boghossian, Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Boghossian prefers to err on the side of safety.

"Breast cancer is the most common cancer and second cause of death from cancer," said Dr. Boghossian. "So I think it is very justifiable to do screening mammograms at an earlier age."

Dr. Boghossian fears health insurance companies and the government will stop paying for yearly mammograms. Navratilova is pushing for earlier and annual screening to continue because she knows firsthand it saves lives.

"I just want to encourage women to have that yearly check up because without it I would be in serious trouble," Navratilova told "Good Morning America."

For now the American Cancer Society stands by its current recommendations. Dr. Boghossian says many women are confused and scared about the recent recommended guidelines. He says if women have a family history of breast cancer, they should get screening early and often and all women should have a discussion with their doctor.