Breast Cancer detection: Why doctors have different views on screenings

Breast Cancer detection: Why doctors have different views on screenings

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Doctors said early detection and mammograms can make all the difference, but doctors are now telling women to get the exam sooner.

If you're a woman in your 40s, chances are you're somewhat confused about mammograms. The debate has been simmering, sometimes boiling, for decades.

The latest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said 'average-risk' women should begin at age 50 and test every other year.

"The trials and scientific evidence show benefit really starting at 50," explained Dr. Heidi Nelson.

Oregon Health and Sciences University Professor Dr. Nelson led the review that resulted in that recommendation.

Her work was featured in The New York Times.

"Most women in their 40s who have biopsies don't have cancer," she explained.

But take away a walk across the OHSU's campus and Dr. Karen Oh, diagnostics radiology professor and director of women's imaging, has some different advice for patients.

"I wish that everybody would come in at 40," Dr. Oh said.

Dr. Oh is one of many specialists who believe earlier screenings are best.

"If you want to save the most lives, improve the mortality the most, you would screen annually from 40 to 84," she said.

Adding to the conflicting opinions, the American Cancer Society now recommends annual screenings at 45.

So, if mammograms do save lives, why isn't every doctor on the same page? It all comes down to balancing the benefits and harms.

"False positives, so you get called back, but you don't have cancer, or biopsies that you don't need or anxiety that you don't necessarily want to have," Dr. Oh explained.

That's why doctors tell patients there is no perfect answer to the mammogram question.

About 80 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history, and scientists don't know what causes it.

Until they can figure that out, there will be no one size fits all recommendation, so talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

"We need you to be a part of that decision to make sure your values are brought into play. To make sure no harms are done unnecessarily. It's a close call," Dr. Nelson said.

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