Doctor's Corner

An Important Message For Women About Your Breast Health

by Peggy Avagliano, MD, Head of Women’s Imaging at Atlantic Medical Imaging

Many of you have heard about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for screening mammograms. The Task Force, an independent panel that regularly reviews the benefits of cancer screenings and other preventive medical care, advises against routine mammography screening for women 40-49 years of age, supports mammography screening every other year for women between 50-74 years of age, and recommends stopping all mammography screening in women over the age of 74.  This recommendation applies to women, 40 years of age and older, who are not at increased risk for breast cancer by virtue of a known genetic mutation or history of chest radiation.

Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women in the United States, not including skin cancer, and is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths.  There is evidence that mammography screening reduces breast cancer deaths.  Since 1990, the breast cancer death rate in the U.S. has decreased by 30% primarily due to mammography screening.

The basis for the Task Force’s recommendation to eliminate routine mammography screening for women 40-49 years of age was due to the increased risk of false positive results from screening mammograms, which could lead to anxiety from callback visits, unnecessary biopsies and a psychological toll on patients.  Many women are probably willing to accept these minor inconveniences in order to maximize the opportunity of finding a cancer earlier by screening.

At Atlantic Medical Imaging, we perform nearly 40,000 mammograms each year.  All mammograms performed at Atlantic Medical Imaging are read by a core group of mammography readers. A review of recent data indicates that 70 women, from the 40-49 years of age group and 74+ years of age group, who came to our office for a screening mammography were found to have breast cancer.  That is 70 lives that were saved with mammography screening.  These women are not just statistics – they are mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and friends.

Mammography may have its limitations – some women who are screened will have false alarms; some cancers will be missed; and some women will undergo unnecessary treatment. However, the limitations do not change the fact that mammography screening starting at age 40 does save lives.

Standardization of mammography practices enacted by the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) has led to improved mammography quality. When selecting a facility, patients should be sure that the facility is an ACR accredited center.  There are separate accreditation procedures for mammography, ultrasound, MRI and stereo-tactic biopsies. A center which is accredited in all breast imaging is considered a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.

Atlantic Medical Imaging, along with the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other national organizations, continues to recommend annual mammography screenings for all women beginning at age 40.