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Mammogram screenings for younger women offer benefits

Study shows starting screening at age 40 can diagnose about 20 percent more cancers compared to those found in screening people 50 and over

Dr. Abid Irshad
Dr. Abid Irshad, medical director of Breast Imaging, hopes the study will raise awareness about the benefits of screening earlier for breast cancer. Photo by Dawn Brazell
Staff | brazell@musc.edu | March 26, 2018

Extending breast cancer screening for women ages 40-49 detects 19.3 percent more cancers when compared to just screening populations in the 50 and over age group, according to a study to be presented at the ARRS 2018 Annual meeting April 22-27 in Washington, D.C.

The study is led by Abid Irshad, M.D., director of Breast Imaging at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, who found many women were confused about when to begin breast cancer screening. Recommended annual screenings range from age 40 to 50. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force states that age is 50, while the American Cancer Society says women should be getting regular mammograms starting at 45. The American College of Radiology recommends screening as young at 40.

“A lot of women aren’t sure when to begin screening. It’s very important to find the cancer early. That’s the point of screening,” Irshad said.

The study looked at the potential benefits of screening women ages 40-49 compared to those between the ages of 50-59 and 60-69. The findings showed that for women 40-49, of 306 biopsies performed, an additional 52 cancers were found. Among the 50-59 age group, 371 biopsies were performed, resulting in 103 cancers detected. Between age 60-69, 302 biopsies were performed, detecting 89 cancers.

The study will help clinicians and patients to assess pros and cons of starting early screening, he said. It shows that a substantial number of undetected cancers could be discovered in a younger population with a small increase in the overall patient callbacks (1.5 percent) and slight increase in the overall biopsies performed for every 100 women (2.8 percent versus 2.7 percent).

Irshad understands while the debate over optimal screening ages will continue, he hopes these results add more weight to starting screening sooner.

Early mammogram screening detects 19.3 percent more cancers

Graph: The study showed that for women 40-49, of 306 biopsies performed an additional 52 cancers were found. Among the 50-59 age group, 371 biopsies were performed resulting in 103 cancers found. Between age 60-69, 302 biopsies were performed detecting 89 cancers.

The study showed that for women 40-49, of 306 biopsies performed an additional 52 cancers were found. Among the 50-59 age group, 371 biopsies were performed resulting in 103 cancers. Between age 60-69, 302 biopsies were performed detecting 89 cancers.

“We found 52 more cancers in the 40 to 49 age group. To us, saving those lives is very important. We read scans every day and see younger patients having cancers all the time. If we miss that younger bracket, that means 52 cancers that we found could have turned into advanced cancers and spread to other areas.”

"Based on our data, of women 40-49 who are screened, a biopsy will only be recommended in about 3 of 100 women who get screening. However, when a biopsy is recommended, about one in every six biopsies will be malignant. “It’s important for patients to know that ratio, I think most women would want to get biopsied if you have those chances. To us, saving those lives by finding cancer at its early stage is very important.”
 


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