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Mammograms: When Should Women Get Them?

An estimated 231,000 American women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year. Another 60,000 women find they have this form of cancer in its earliest, and often most treatable, stages. Despite major advances in treatments, however, an estimated 40,000 women die annually from this disease, shedding light on the importance of early screening.

While early screening is seen as a potential life-saver for breast cancer patients, many women remain unsure of just when testing procedures like mammograms should begin. The standing recommendation from the American College of Radiology, the Society of Breast Imaging and the American Cancer Society is the age of 40. This testing procedure, all three organizations stress, should be performed annually. While some concerns have been raised about the potential for false positives, all three point to the reality that only about 10 percent of mammogram patients are asked to return for second procedures because of inconclusive results. Overall, the use of this procedure has given rise to a 35 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths.

Mammograms are just one prong of a well-structured screening plan. Women are also urged to:
• Conduct self-examinations – Routine self-examinations of breast tissue can begin at any age. This can help with the detection of small growths in women of any age, but can be especially important for younger women who may not undergo annual mammograms because of their age.
• Routine medical exams – Annual appointments with a healthcare provider also serve as a first line of defense against this disease.

Breast cancer deaths are down, but they haven’t been eradicated. To help lower the risks of mortality related to this disease, medical professionals strongly urge women to undergo annual mammograms starting at the age of 40. Women who are concerned about breast cancer should speak to their healthcare providers about their personal risks and the need for early, routine screening.

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