Regular mammograms can help detect breast cancer early, but when to start getting them has been under debate for years. Now, a new study could add even more confusion to the controversy.
A few years ago, a government taskforce stirred the pot by recommending that women wait until they are 50 to begin getting regular mammograms instead of starting at 40. Now, a new study contradicts that advice by saying starting mammograms sooner could dramatically cut the number of breast cancer deaths.
Researchers at Harvard University found that 71 percent of breast cancer patients had not had a mammogram prior to diagnosis and half were under 50 years old, which seems to support the American Cancer Society's recommendation that women get yearly mammograms once turning 40.
"The study shows that a lot of women who aren't getting mammograms before 50 are dying," Dr. Deborah Day, of the Piper Cancer Institute, told FOX 9 News.
The Piper Cancer Institute sees about 700 breast cancer patients a year, and a third are between 40 and 50. Day says that's why she believes regular mammograms can't start early enough.
"It is confusing," she conceded. "There are studies we see every so often -- some show it's good to start at 40, others say it's too costly to do that."
Yet, a battle with cancer is costly -- and if caught too late, could cost much more than money.
"It's definitely a concern, especially now that I'm a mom," Monica Taylor told FOX 9 News.
Like a lot of new mothers, Taylor tries to keep up with medical news for herself and for her 2-year-old, Cohen. Unfortunately, knowing when she should start getting regular mammograms hasn't exactly been child's play.
"Every year, it seems to change and you want to make sure you do the right thing," Taylor said. "It's hard to keep up with all the changes."
At 32, regular mammograms are still years away for Taylor, but she said she plans to follow her doctor's orders, whatever they may be.
"I'm not a direct relative of someone who's had breast cancer and I still check myself as often as I can, so I think the earlier the better and whatever they tell me to do, I will do," she explained.
For those who are not at high risk of breast cancer, clinical breast exams are recommended every two to three years starting in your 20s; however, those with family members who have been diagnosed may wish to speak with their doctor about a more aggressive screening option.