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Women in their 40s ignore mammogram recommendations

Category: Breast

People who have a family history of cancer should get regular lab tests done to make sure that they are healthy. Early detection is the key to successful cancer treatment, which is why people need to get screened for it and other diseases often.

However, while requesting confidential lab tests is something that anyone who is concerned about their cancer risk can do, some cancer screening procedures are not always necessary. For example, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that women in their 40s continue to get regular mammograms, despite new national guidelines.

According to the researchers, in 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force looked through a number of studies and determined that while women between the ages of 50 and 74 should get mammograms every two years, women who are in their 40s may not need them so regularly. However, despite these revised recommendations, women in their 40s appear to be getting mammograms at the same rate as they always have.

Mixed results
Under the new recommendations, women in their 40s who do not have a history of breast cancer in their family should talk to their doctor about their personal risk of the disease and decide with their physicians whether they need regular mammograms. The researchers explained that, for younger women, the benefits of mammograms may not outweigh the risks. While routine mammograms do increase cancer detection among younger women, they only reduce mortality rates by a small percentage. Furthermore, regular mammograms sometimes result in unnecessary treatments like biopsies, lumpectomies and mastectomies and even radiation treatment - all because of false positives. Also, some of the cancer that is detected may not be dangerous, but is still treated aggressively.

For all of these reasons, healthcare professionals have traditionally encouraged women to talk to their physicians about their risks before scheduling a mammogram. However, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that women in their 40s continue to get unnecessary mammograms regularly. The scientists speculated that this may be due to the fact that women have had the "mammograms save lives" message drilled into their heads for years.

"Breast cancer gets so much attention in the media and in society in general, despite cardiovascular disease being by far the number one killer in women. Everyone wants to feel as though they are preventing breast cancer," said researcher Lauren Block, M.D. "You hear one anecdotal story about someone in their 40s who found cancer during a mammogram and did really well with treatment and that's enough to fly in the face of any other facts that are out there. Women want the test."

Check for heart disease instead
Block pointed out something important - cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 threat to women in the U.S. Therefore, rather than worrying about breast cancer, women in their 40s may decide to be proactive about getting regular blood tests to determine if they have high cholesterol.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, while anyone with a family history of heart disease should get their health checked regularly, some people may want to be screened more often than others. For example, individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes and those who smoke or are overweight should all be screened regularly. The NHLBI adds that people need to create "heart profiles" to help determine their risk. This means that they should learn their cholesterol and blood pressure levels to help determine their risk. While all people know whether they smoke, they need to get blood tests to help them determine other risk factors.

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