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Study Suggests Frequent Mammograms Not "Cost-Effective"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the cancer that American women of every race and ethnicity are most likely to develop, other than skin cancer, is breast cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately one in eight (just over 12 percent) of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

As such, the American Cancer Society developed guidelines for breast cancer screening - including annual mammograms beginning at age 40 - in order to detect cancerous growths early. A new study, though, challenges this recommendation.

Taking into account several factors, including the effect that a "false positive" diagnosis has on a woman's life, the study found that it was not "cost effective" for women to have yearly mammograms. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July 2011, the study said that women should not consider just age when deciding how often to undergo mammograms. Instead, the study suggests that women look at several factors to determine their risk of developing breast cancer and then determine how frequently to undergo mammograms.

The four risk factors in addition to age women should consider, according to the study, include:

  • Breast density
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • History of breast biopsies
  • Personal beliefs about the risks and benefits of mammograms

Speaking of the results of the study, Robert Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, is reported in USA Today as saying that these risk factors "boost the risk of breast cancer," but there are limitations to only looking at these risk factors. He said that breast density is difficult to measure and that many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a history of breast cancer in their family.

Do not alter the frequency of your breast cancer screenings without first discussing the decision with your doctor. Increasing the time between mammograms could lead to a delay in diagnosing breast cancer and lower the chances of successfully treating that cancer.


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