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OCTOBER IS NATIONAL BREAST CANCER
MAMMOGRAMS BETWEEN 40 AND 49 YEARS OF AGE
Both patients and their physicians were stunned last year when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against routine annual screening mammograms in women between the age of40 and 49 years (as has been the standard recommendation in the United States, and in most countries around the world, for many years). The USPSTF’s recommendations quickly set off a firestorm of debate regarding the calculations and public health considerations used by the USPSTF to arrive at this surprising recommendation. Since the USPSTF released its recommendations in the fall of 2009, most breast cancer specialists and breast cancer advocacy groups have continued to recommend that women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer begin routine annual screening mammograms at age 40.
As I extensively discuss in my new book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, there is ample available clinical research data showing that screening mammograms detect breast cancer at an earlier stage than other commonly available screening methods, and that survival is improved in women in whom breast cancer is first detected by a mammogram (as opposed to the detection of a palpable or visible breast mass).
Now, a newly published large-scale public health study from Sweden, which appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer, offers further important evidence that the routine use of annual screening mammograms among women between 40 and 49 years of age significantly reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer.
In this enormous study, women between the ages of 40 and 49 years were separated into two groups, depending upon whether or not they underwent annual screening mammograms between 1986 and 2005 (the average duration of patient follow-up in this study was a very impressive 16 years). In this very powerful research study, young women who underwent annual mammograms accounted for 7.3 million “person-years” of observation, while the young women who did not undergo mammograms accounted for a similarly astonishing 8.8 million “person-years” of observation within this landmark public health study.
When the number of breast cancer deaths were assessed in both of these huge groups of young women, the women who underwent routine annual mammograms were found to be 29 percent less likely to die of breast cancer when compared to the young women who did not undergo annual mammograms! (In public health terms, this 29 percent observed reduction in the death rate due to breast cancer is highly clinically significant!)
This public health study, which encompassed the entire country of Sweden, is the largest mammography study of its kind, and its findings are both powerful and persuasive in defense of beginning routine annual screening mammograms at the age of 40 in women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer. It is my hope that the dramatic findings of this huge clinical study will now lay to rest any lingering doubts regarding the effectiveness of screening mammograms, beginning at 40 years of age, in reducing the risk of death due to breast cancer.
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I urge our tens of thousands of regular Weekly Health Update readers to join in the global fight against breast cancer. There are numerous organizations and groups, in virtually every community, that are sponsoring fundraising activities throughout October, including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Another opportunity to participate (and at no cost!) is to vote for the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation Army of Women project in the Pepsi Refresh competition! There are also many other worthwhile and deserving fundraising programs available for everyone to become involved in!
For an evidence-based discussion of the critical importance of breast cancer screening, including mammograms, in a cancer prevention lifestyle, order your copy of my new landmark book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Vroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!
Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity
Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people, from around the world, who visit this premier global health information website every month. (As of 9/16/2010, more than 1,000,000 health-conscious people have logged onto Weekly Health Update so far this year!) As always, I enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.