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Researchers: Mammograms before 50 can be lifesaving

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Scientists recommend tests at 40

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women should wait until age 50 to get a mammogram. However, a new study finds that women who get them sooner are less likely to die of breast cancer.

Woman getting mammogram

The American Cancer Society recommends that women get yearly mammograms starting at age 40. That advisory has caused quite a bit of controversy, especially since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force only recommends yearly screenings starting at age 50. However, a new study published today in the journal Cancer backs up the ACS.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 7,301 women diagnosed with breast cancer at one Boston area hospital between 1990 and 1999. The researchers followed the women until 2007 and found that of the 609 people who died from breast cancer, 71 percent didn't receive regular cancer screenings. The other 29 percent did receive regular screenings.

Of those who died, half were under age 50, while 13 percent were 70 or older.

The results suggest that women should receive "less, or less frequent screening at ages older than 69 years, but more, or more frequent screening [at ages] younger than 50 years" and that breast cancer is more aggressive in younger women, meaning they need yearly mammograms to detect the cancer in the early stages.

"Breast cancer is primarily a disease of older women, but younger women tend to have faster-growing cancer," Dr. Barbara Monsees, a professor of women's health and radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, told NPR.

"There are people who feel that screening doesn't reduce death rates, that it's all in treatment," Monsees added. "This study corroborates prior studies that [show] screening mammograms save lives."

However, other physicians aren't convinced. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, says that the study only tells "half the story."

"If, among women who live, 30 percent were screened and 70 percent were not, everyone would agree that screening had no effect," Welch told LiveScience.

Ultimately, it's better to be safe than sorry. Speak to your doctor if you're under 50 and unsure whether or not to get a mammogram.

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