Government recommends mammograms for women over 40
March 27, 1997
Web posted at: 1:57 p.m. EST (1857 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board recommended Thursday that women over the age of 40 get mammograms every one to two years if they are at average risk of breast cancer.
The board advises the National Cancer Institute, whose director, Dr. Richard Klausner, said he supports the advice.
Those at higher than average risk are urged to talk to their doctors about getting checked more often and starting mammography earlier in life.
The NCI says women are at higher than average risk if:
- They have already had breast cancer, especially before menopause.
- They have especially lumpy or dense breasts.
- They are genetically susceptible to cancer.
- They have had close relatives with breast cancer.
- They were over 30 before their first pregnancy.
The new recommendations are closer to those of the American Cancer Society and other health advocacy groups in the United States.
They cite new studies showing that routine mammography among women in their 40s does save lives by detecting cancers small enough to cure.
Armed with the latest data, the American Cancer Society tightened its position this week, advising that women in their 40s undergo mammography every year instead of every two.
The NCI's position is only slightly less rigid, urging women with an average risk of breast cancer to be screened every one or two years beginning at age 40.
Years of debate
The NCI's recommendation comes after years of debate over the value of mammograms for women under age 50. Critics of starting mammography at 40 point to the four out of five suspicious findings that turn out not to be breast cancer.
But even though it's relatively rare, breast cancer is a leading cause of death in women under 50.
"I think it's important because I can think of patients who have been diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 50 by mammography," says Dr. Colette Magnant of the Columbia Hospital for Women.
Now that the NCI is on board with other health groups' recommendations, advocates of early cancer screening predict an end to confusion that, until now, has made it harder for some women to decide on how best to protect themselves from breast cancer.
Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz and Reuters contributed to this report.
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