Regular Mammograms Could Save The Lives Of Younger Women
September 9, 2013

Regular Mammograms Could Save The Lives Of Younger Women

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

According to a new study, the majority of deaths from breast cancer occur in younger women who never received regular mammograms. This, says the study’s authors, proves young women should undergo regular mammogram screening.

The issue of mammograms for young women is a controversial topic, and many believe these scans should only be conducted on women between ages 50 and 74. Other studies have also shown, however, that mammograms are more likely to diagnose women with breast cancer than other kinds of tests. This latest study, published early in the American Cancer Society's journal Cancer, says 71 percent of all women who suffered from breast cancer had not been screened. Furthermore, 50 percent of these women were under the age of 50; only 13 percent were over 70 years old.

Dr. Blake Cady, professor of surgery (emeritus) at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA led the research to understand the importance and value of regular screenings for women younger than 50 years-old.

“The biological nature of breast cancer in young women is more aggressive, while breast cancer in older women tends to be more indolent. This suggests that less frequent screening in older women, but more frequent screening in younger women, may be more biologically based, practical, and cost effective,” concluded Dr. Cady in a statement.

Using a technique called “failure analysis,” Dr. Cady and his team of colleagues looked backwards to determine the effectiveness of these screenings in younger women. According to Dr. Cady, only one other published study has used failure analysis to determine a mammogram’s effectiveness.

Data from Partners HealthCare hospitals in Boston between 1990 and 1999 was examined as a part of this study and included demographics, mammography use, surgical reports, recurrence and death rates. The research team then looked backwards from the time of death to draw a sort of timeline to determine what steps may have played a role in the women’s death.

A minority of these women — 29 percent — had faced a mammogram machine before their deaths. The average age of those under 50 who died from breast cancer was 49 years old; those who died from some other cause were an average age of 72 years old.

Further trumpeting the effectiveness of mammography, Dr. Cady and team found survival rates increased after these tests were first introduced. Half of the women diagnosed with the cancer in the late 60s died after only twelve and a half years after diagnosis, on average. In between the years 1990 and 1999, only 7.9 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer died in the same time frame.

“This is a remarkable achievement, and the fact that 71 percent of the women who died were women who were not participating in screening clearly supports the importance of early detection,” said co-author Dr. Daniel Kopans with the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Earlier this year a study conducted at TOPS Comprehensive Breast Center in Houston, Texas found 3D mammography to be the most effective form of early breast cancer detection, reducing recalls and increasing the number of accurate diagnoses.

Though different forms of mammography are capable of finding the life-threatening cancer, not all are created equal. A 2012 study found that while these tests can detect the cancer, not all the cancer found is life threatening, resulting in what some claim is an overdiagnosis.