Should Mammograms Start at 40?

Mammograms© John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock
What You’ve Always Heard
Mammograms save lives. But after that simple statement comes a lot of arguing. The big question: Should women start getting mammograms at age 40 or wait until they turn 50? The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend starting at 40; the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says the evidence isn’t strong enough for a blanket recommendation.

The Headlines Now
Mammography saves even more lives than we thought, according to the longest study ever (it followed more than 100,000 Swedish women for nearly 30 years). Its conclusion? Women whose doctors offered regular mammograms cut their risk of dying of breast cancer by 30 percent. “That’s a really big deal,” Loretta Lawrence, MD, chief of breast imaging at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told the Los Angeles Times. “It translates to 15,000 to 20,000 lives saved each year.”

But Wait
The study didn’t attempt to determine whether mammograms between 40 and 50 are useful; data from that age group were simply combined with the rest. Some researchers even believe that a mammogram is more likely to harm a woman in this age group than help her.That can happen if the exam leads to aggressive treatment (including mastectomy) for something that wasn’t really dangerous, says Joann Elmore, MD, at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “In a great many cases, mammograms find slowly growing tumors that were never going to kill anyone,” says biostatistician Donald Berry, PhD, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “But women who have had breast cancer often say that their mammogram saved their life. I’ve given up telling them that, judging from the statistics, that’s most unlikely.”

So What Should a Woman Do?
If she’s over 50, most experts recommend yearly or biannual mammograms. But if a woman is in her 40s, it’s reasonable to get a mammogram — or to skip it, says Barnett Kramer, MD, editor in chief of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. “It’s a close call, which explains why the experts are tearing at each other.”

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you the newsletter each week, and we may also send you occasional special offers from Reader's Digest. For more information please read our privacy policy.

2 thoughts on “Should Mammograms Start at 40?

  1. Well, the best facts show no meaningful decrease in breast cancer mortality in women of any age group (read the e-book “The Mammogram Myth” by Rolf Hefti). So, you can figure out what the answer is to this article’s headline question…

  2. Start having mammograms at age 40. I have stage 3 breast cancer and am 45 and never had a mammogram until it was too late. I don’t have any relatives who have breast cancer, so it came as a total shock. I wish I had a mammogram earlier to avoid the chemo, surgery and radiation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram

@kristencarney

A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.

@sixthformpoet

Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.

From clientsfromhell.net

Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”

@NicCageMatch

Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 
—Alcohol

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.

Fields marked with an * are required
Foods That Harm Foods That HealWant a Free eBook?
FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL offers important information about the role diet plays in the struggle against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses. Answer the question below to receive your FREE digital eBook.

Someone in my household experiences the following conditions:

Send me a link to download FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL:
By clicking below, I agree to the Trusted Media Brands Privacy Policy