Regular mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer at the earliest possible stage. Mammograms identify cancer before symptoms (such as feeling a lump) occur. Early cancers found on a mammogram are often small, confined to the breast (meaning they haven’t spread to other areas), and can be the easiest to treat.
Recently, questions arose about whether the benefits of mammography outweigh some possible risks. Mammograms can identify abnormalities that are not cancer. This can result in additional testing, visits, and sometimes procedures, which can cause stress and anxiety. Mammography also exposes women to a small amount of radiation.
In response, a U.S. task force convened to evaluate research related to breast cancer screening. They announced, and some professional organizations agreed, that women don’t need to start regular mammograms until age 45 or even 50. And, rather than have screenings every year, the new guidelines recommended mammograms every other year for some women, depending on their age and breast cancer risk.
The latest guidelines caused an uproar among women and doctors who believe screening mammograms save lives. Duke radiologist Jay Baker, MD, strongly agrees that screening is beneficial. He said the new guidelines underestimate the value of early detection and overestimate the risk of potential harm.