Half of Younger Women at Higher Risk for Breast Cancer

MANA doctors recommend annual mammograms for women beginning at age 40. In recent years, there has been some controversy over this recommendation. But recent research confirms that mammograms for women from 40 to 45 are essential.

A study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital found that half of women ages 40 to 45 may have a higher risk for breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women with a less than 15% chance of developing breast cancer — average risk — should start mammograms at age 45. Those with higher risk should begin at age 40, the ACS said.

The catch? Most women don’t know which group they fall into. Unless they have reason to believe that they’re at special risk, says senior author Dr. Kevin Hughes, “Many women may remain unaware that screening at an earlier age is important to their health.”

Researchers examined data from 6,964 women who had visited the breast clinic at Massachusetts General and found that half of those between 40 and 45 were at higher than 15% risk of developing breast cancer. They were “extremely surprised” that the proportion was so large.

You might be surprised, too. Hearing that only high-risk women need mammograms at age 40, most women will assume that they can wait until they’re 45. Average risk sounds like the default. High risk sounds as though it would apply to just a minority of women.

In the Massachusetts General sample, though, the subjects ended up being evenly split between average and high risk.

The researchers concluded that women should have a first screening at age 40, whether or not they believe they are at high risk. The question then arose: who would do the assessment? The authors suggested that a primary care physician or OB-Gyn might be the natural choice.

The Breast Center offers Risk Assessment, however, so Northwest Arkansas women have that additional option. Since 17% of American women don’t have a primary care physician, having that alternative can help women get the early preventive care that has been proven to save lives.

Women who come to the Breast Center for mammograms are screened for risk of developing breast cancer. If their history indicates that they may be at higher risk, the Breast Center will recommend a Risk Assessment. This means that women can start with a mammogram and know that they’ll receive a Risk Assessment as well.

At the same time, women who are at higher risk can learn about other kinds of testing that can be helpful, including genetic testing and screening MRI.

Call (479) 442-6266 in Fayetteville or (479) 271-0084 in Bentonville.