Mammograms: The Benefits Outweigh the Risks

I am often asked my opinion about the benefits and risks associated with screening mammograms. In spite of the 2009 release of the controversial guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, I still strongly recommend that women older than 40 years of age get annual mammograms for the early detection of breast cancer, and most experts — including the American Cancer Society, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Radiology — agree.

While the task force did not raise issues related to the risk of radiation, many women and health professionals were confused and concerned about the safety of mammography when they changed their original recommendations from 2002, now suggesting that screening mammography start at age 50 (instead of 40) and then only every two years (instead of every year).

The risk of radiation-induced breast cancer associated with routine mammographic screening of women 40 years of age and older (and the number of deaths expected due to such cancers) are extremely low, especially when compared to the expected benefits of screening. A recent landmark study confirms that mammography lowers breast cancer death rates by nearly a third in women age 40 to 49.

Please let your doctor know if this is of concern for you. We are happy to discuss this topic during your next visit so that you can make an informed decision.


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