The debate over when women should begin regular mammogram screenings was thrust back into the spotlight this week.
Dr. Jennifer Plichta of Massachusetts General Hospital revived the discussion during a presentation over the weekend at the annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBS).
Plichta told the group that about half of women between the ages of 40 and 44 are at above average risk of breast cancer, and that makes them eligible for regular screenings, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.
The findings of Plichta and her team still need to be peer-reviewed and published.
However, they go against the grain in the medical world where many organizations are revising breast cancer recommendations in the wake of concerns over the effectiveness and long-term effects of regular mammograms.
Last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) revised its guidelines on mammograms.
In the past, the nonprofit organization had recommended women begin annual screenings at age 40.
Now, the society’s guidelines state that women should have the choice to start annual mammograms at age 40 if they wish to do so.
The guidelines state women should get annual mammograms from age 45 to 54. At age 55, women can then switch to a screening every two years.
The guidelines say the screenings should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
The recommendations are similar to those released early this year by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Those guidelines state mammograms can be effective for women in their 40s but advised women to consult with their doctors.
The task force does recommend mammograms every two years for women ages 50 to 74.
For women over age 74, the task force made no recommendation, saying more research needs to be done.
There are concerns about the long-term effects of getting what amounts to a breast X-ray every year or two.
There’s also the effectiveness of these tests, especially on women with dense breast tissue.
And there’s the cost as well as the concern that insurance companies might stop covering mammograms for women in their 40s if fewer of them go in for annual exams.
The Case for Early Mammograms
Plichta and her team of researchers decided to dive into the issue.
Their study involved 900 women, none of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. All were seen as new patients at Massachusetts General Hospital between March 2011 and October 2015.
Plichta said 50 percent of these women met the ACS or ASBS requirements for early mammography.
She added that 32 percent of the women met the requirements for regular screening MRIs and 25 percent were eligible for genetic testing, according to a story on Medline Plus.
Plichta said the high percentage of women who meet these requirements are enough to warrant annual mammograms for most women after age 40.
She added that doctors should increase their efforts to do risk assessments for breast cancer on all female patients in their early 40s.