The best health advice for women aiming to prevent breast cancer is to keep watch for trouble. That includes mammograms…and a new study shows that it should also include an ever-larger segment of people: women in their 40s. Even those with less reason to worry than others.
A new study shows that women in their 40s who have no family history of breast cancer are just as likely to develop the disease as women with breast cancer running through their family tree. It was presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
It shows that all women in their 40s would benefit from annual mammograms.
(Plus, in case you missed it, we ran a story in October about vitamins to help prevent breast cancer: Two Vitamins to Help Prevent Breast Cancer.)
Back in 2009, U.S. breast cancer screening guidelines sparked a controversy among doctors, patient groups and the media. Much of the debate centered on the recommendation against routine annual mammography screening for women in their 40s.
As it turns out, that controversy was accurate. The new study helps show there is great importance in mammography screening for women in this age group — directly opposing those guidelines, which were set by a task force that is established to help prevent disease.
Researchers retrospectively identified the number and type of cancers diagnosed among women between 40 and 49 years old (both with and without a family history of breast cancer) who underwent mammography screening during the past decade. Then, they compared the number of cancers, incidence of invasive disease, and lymph node metastases between the two groups.
Of the 1,071 patients in the 40s age group with breast cancer, 373 were diagnosed as a result of a mammogram. Of those women, 39% had a family history of breast cancer — and 61% had no trace of it in their family history.
Going further into statistics, 63% of the family history group had invasive cancer (the most dangerous form) and 37% had non-invasive cancer. In the no-family history group, the numbers were 64% and 36%, respectively. And in both groups, the number of women for whom cancer had spread into the lymph nodes (extremely dangerous) hovered at about 30%. Together, these numbers show that there is a significant rate of breast cancer in women who are in their 40s, whether or not it runs in the family. Also, there are similar rates of invasive cancer and tumors that spread to the lymph node.
This underscores how important it is to detect breast cancer early. One of the best methods is to get a mammogram every year. When it comes to cancer prevention, it just takes a little effort.