Oncologist: Mammography Debate Settled

Published 03/28 2011 12:41PM

Updated 03/29 2011 09:01AM

Plains Township, Luzerne County -- Health care reform in America has stirred up controversy over the age women should start getting mammograms.  But the director of the Cancer Institute with Geisinger Health System says a Swedish study has the one and only answer.

Dr. Victor Vogel says while breast self-exams help find half of all breast cancers, those exams alone aren't enough.

"The reason for that is, for any woman, even a physician to be able to feel a breast cancer, it has to be pretty large," said Dr. Vogel. "A half an inch or even an inch."

And that means, it's advanced breast cancer, which is tougher to fight.

He says when women call their buddies to do a breast self-exam every month, they should also remind them to make sure their yearly mammogram is scheduled, if they're 40 years old or older.

A Swedish study following 16 million women for decades shows those who got mammograms beginning at age 40 had a lower change of dying from breast cancer.

"It lowers the death risk from breast cancer by about 40%," said Dr. Vogel.

He says America's health care reform was based on one finding in the Swedish study - that women who get mammograms every other year between the ages of 50 and 74 had a 23% reduced risk of dying from breast cancer, compared to women who didn't have mammograms at all.

But he says a life-saving statistic was ignored.  Women who had annual mammograms from ages 40 to 84 in this same study reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by 40%.

"The message is this - the controversy is gone, there's no confusion about the benefit, and women 40 and over should have mammography every year," concluded Dr. Vogel.  "I think any public health strategy that can save 15,000 or 20,000 lives of American women is worth doing."

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