Harvard Health Letter

Mammogram rates steady, even with new guidelines

Women continue to have mammograms each year, despite recent recommendations against the annual breast cancer screenings. That's according to a study from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, published in the April 19, 2013, online edition of the journal Cancer. Researchers found that mammography rates rose at a slight but statistically nonsignificant rate between 2008 and 2011. Three years ago, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against routine mammogram screening for women ages 40 to 49 and recommended that women ages 50 to 74 have a mammogram every other year. The study authors suggest that providers disagree with the USPSTF recommendations. So what should you do? "Although breast cancer is more common after the age of 50, mammograms between ages 40 and 49 still detect tumors and may save lives. For that reason, I recommend all women have a baseline mammogram at age 40, and if it is normal, consider at least biennial screening thereafter. If you feel a lump in your breast, don't wait for your next routine mammogram appointment; go to your doctor straightaway," says Dr. Michaela Higgins, a breast oncologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

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