Screening Mammograms: The Truth

Dr. Antoinette Cortese
Director of Women’s Imaging
Sierra Imaging & CTRMC
Fellowship Trained in Breast Imaging

Recent government task force recommendations advise against screening mammography for women 40-49 years of age, recommend screening only every other year for women between ages 50 and 74, and recommend stop screening over age 74. However, the American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual screening mammography for all women beginning at age 40.

Here are the facts. The mortality rate from breast cancer decreased by 30 percent since the onset of regular screening mammography for women age 40 and over. Prior to regular screening, the mortality rate had been unchanged for 50 years. At least 40 percent of the years of life saved by screening mammography are in the 40-49 age group since younger women tend to have more aggressive breast cancer.

The task force makes the judgment that saving one life per 1,904 women screened in the 40-49 age group is not worthwhile. Furthermore, screening high-risk women only will miss the vast majority of breast cancer since 75-90 percent of women who develop breast cancer are not at increased risk. Early detection saves lives with less invasive therapy and should be the primary goal. Annual screening mammography beginning at age 40 remains the best means of achieving that goal.