New Study Backs Mammogram Screening for Women in Their 40s

In another slap at a 2009 U.S. task force recommendation on mammography, a new study released Tuesday finds that women do indeed benefit from annual mammograms in their 40s – even if they don’t have a family history of breast cancer.

The report – presented to the Radiology Society of America meeting in Chicago – found that women with no family history of breast cancer are just as likely to develop invasive breast cancer as are women with family members who previously had it. The study also found that mammography was effective at discovering possible cancers among women in their 40s.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force ignited a firestorm of controversy when it recommended that women not begin routine mammogram screening until age 50.

The Canadian government just received a recommendation for an even more restrictive policy. For women at 'average risk:' No routine mammograms age 40-49; mammograms every two to three years after age 50; and no routine breast examinations – either by doctors in a clinical settings or breast self-exams by women - are recommended at any age.

Critics of the policies argue that thousands of cancers would be missed in the decade between ages 40 and 50 and that many lives would be lost or put at risk.

Tuesday's report – from the Elizabeth Wende Breast Care Institution in Rochester, N.Y., which specializes in imaging for the detection of breast cancer, looked at 1,071 patients age 40-49 who had breast cancer. 

Here’s what they found:

* 373 of those cancers were detected by mammogram
* Of those, 61 percent of women had no family history of breast cancer
* Among women with no family history, 63.2 percent of the cancers were invasive

The percentage of women with invasive disease (63.2 percent) was literally identical to the numbers among women with a family history (64 percent).

Dr. Stamatia Destounis, radiologist and managing partner of Elizabeth Wende Breast Care, said the benefits of mammography in this age group are clear.

“We believe this study demonstrates the importance of mammography screening for women in this age group, which is in opposition to the recommendations issued by the task force,” Destounis said.

Destounis, a strong advocate for annual mammography, serves as an investigator for several companies that manufacture breast imaging devices.