The goal of regular mammograms is to reduce deadly breast cancer by early detection, when treatment is more effective and less harmful, experts say.

But experts have not agreed on when early detection should start.

Some of the latest studies done by a government task force show that mammograms do the most good later in life, and women should get one every other year starting at age 50.

But other health groups, including specialists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, encourage women to get mammograms every year, starting at age 40.

One in 69 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their 40s, experts said.

“When my sister, an internal medicine doctor, asked me the year she needed to start getting regular mammograms, I said 40,” said Dr. Quan Nguyen, an imaging specialist with the University of Texas Medical Branch. “That’s my strongest argument. That’s where we stand at UTMB.”

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about 40,000 die from it.

It is most frequently diagnosed among women ages 55 to 65, and the median age of death from breast cancer is 68.
But younger women are not immune.

“I’ve seen women with cancers between ages 40 to 45,” Nguyen said. “If a woman feels something new or changing they should come in and see their doctor.”

A woman with a family history of breast cancer should begin checks even sooner, he said, ideally when she is 10 years younger than the age at which her relatives were diagnosed with cancer. If a woman’s mother was diagnosed at 45, that woman should get screened at 35, he said.

Nguyen also noted that mammography was not perfect, and it will not benefit all women equally.
“Mammography detects most, but not all breast cancers,” Nguyen said.

But getting that first screening beginning at age 40 is the most beneficial because a woman has more years left to save, he said.

“The first mammogram is extremely helpful,” Nguyen said. “Because then, every mammogram after that, you have something to compare with.”

Contact reporter Shannon Daughtry at 409-683-5337 or shannon.daughtry@galvnews.com.