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New Guidelines Recommend Women Start Screening Mammograms at 40

The USPSTF now recommends that women have screening mammograms every two years, beginning when they turn 40.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF, has just proposed new guidelines for mammograms. In 2009, the USPSTF recommended that women at average risk for breast cancer start getting regular screening mammograms at age 50. This week, it dropped the starting age from 50 to 40.

How Often Should Women Get Screening Mammograms?

The group recommends that women get screening mammograms every two years. Timing and frequency of this procedure has been quite controversial over the years. Some experts have worried that screening too frequently could lead to overdiagnosis–detection of changes that do not pose a danger.

The USPSTF may have made its current shift to a younger age because of rising breast cancer rates among younger women. Black women, in particular, are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women. Hopefully, earlier screening will detect tumors earlier so that they can be treated effectively.

The USPSTF has not determined an age at which women no longer need screening mammograms. It warns, though, that people at higher risk for breast cancer should ask their personal physicians for advice. Such experts have information on a patient’s history to guide when to start screening and how often to do so.

What About a Lump in the Breast?

If a woman finds a lump in her breast, she should ask for a mammogram regardless of her age. That is not considered a screening mammogram but is part of a diagnostic procedure.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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