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When Should You Have Your First Mammogram?

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LOS ANGELES (KNX1070) — In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said biennial screening mammography for women ages 40 to 49 would have only a small benefit, so mammograms should be done starting at the age of 50.

Dr. Anne Hoyt, the medical director of breast imaging at UCLA, tells KNX107’s Linda Nunez the task force’s recommendations were widely criticized.

“This is an organization when they made these recommendations, they didn’t have anybody on that task force with direct experience in breast care or breast management. So you’ll find today that the major organizations that care for women who have breast disease — for example the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, the Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, National Cancer Institute, etc. — everybody recommends beginning their screening mammogram at age 40 and the American College of Radiology and the Cancer Society recommend that women have screening mammography beginning at age 40 every year thereafter.”

But Dr. Hoyt acknowledges having a mammogram every year is no guarantee a life could be saved, as some tumors are very aggressive.

“When you have a woman who has a tumor like that, early detection often isn’t successful in her because these tumors tend to present between mammograms. Even if she’s getting her mammograms each year, this tumor may present as a lump that comes up between mammograms. So for this smaller segment of the population that has these very, very aggressive tumors, it’s difficult to diagnose them at an earlier stage, but what we need to focus on is the vast majority of women who don’t present with these very aggressive early tumors – women that present with your routine, what we think of as run-of-the-mill breast cancers, who are going to be saved by screening mammography.”

The bottom line, says Dr. Hoyt, is screening mammography is the most studied screening exam in the world and has been proven to save lives. She says a yearly mammogram decreases the breast cancer death rate by 30 percent or more.

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