In recent years some studies have called into question the merits of mammograms—the radiological gold standard for detecting breast cancer—in women younger than fifty. While many esteemed American health organizations continue to recommend annual screenings beginning at forty, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, released a special report in June’s New England Journal of Medicine that concluded there are only “limited benefits” to women having mammograms before turning fifty. IARC cited the number of “false positive” results in younger mammography patients, which can lead to unnecessary further screening and procedures.
In light of the conflicting data and medical viewpoints, we asked medical experts from three Fairfield County hospitals if they would continue to urge their patients to seek mammograms beginning at age forty. Their answer: an unequivocal yes.
“While breast cancer occurs at lower frequency in women in their forties, one in six breast cancers occurs in this age group. The biological nature of breast cancer in these younger women is generally more aggressive, making early detection even more important.”
—Dr. Linda LaTrenta
Diagnostic radiologist, Greenwich Hospital
“I give my patients the same advice I would give to my wife, my mother or any other family member—mammograms save lives. We now use 3-D mammography for all patients, regardless of breast density. This technology means we’re calling back thousands fewer women for unnecessary tests, and our ability to detect cancers earlier is among the highest in the country.”
—Dr. David Gruen
Director, Women’s Imaging, and codirector, Women’s Breast Center, Stamford Hospital
“A lot of the research interpreting the value of mammograms has come out of other countries, and I think one thing to consider is how their perspectives figure into the American value system of what’s beneficial. Until we get better prospective data, I don’t think we change our recommendations. When you look at breast cancer statistics, the curve begins to escalate at around age forty and that’s when you start to see rates climb.”
—Dr. Mary Pronovost
Breast surgeon and medical director, Bridgeport Hospital’s Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center