• The right age for someone to undergo mammography has been a subject of much debate
  • British scientists now claim women who are 40 to 49 years old should undergo screening to increase their chances of survival 
  • The British researchers analyzed 23 years of data

Women should undergo mammogram screening upon reaching the age of 40 as a new study suggests this could help save the lives of many.

The right age for someone to undergo mammography has been a subject of much debate for a long time now. Some health experts say women at risk of breast cancer must submit themselves to mammogram screening as soon as they reach 50 years old, while others say it must be earlier than that, an article at US News & World Report stated.

Recently, British scientists published the results of their new study that suggests women who are 40 to 49 years old should undergo screening for breast cancer to increase their chances of survival in case they are found to be at risk.

"This is a very long-term follow-up of a study which confirms that screening in women under 50 can save lives," said Stephen Duffy, one of the study's researchers from Queen Mary University of London.

early mammogram screening
early mammogram screening Elías Alarcón - Pixabay

In a university news release, Duffy also stated women will enjoy the benefit within the first 10 years if they undergo screening at that age, with "the reduction in mortality persisting in the long term at about one life saved per thousand women screened."

The researchers published their study, “Effect of mammographic screening from age 40 years on breast cancer mortality (UK Age trial): final results of a randomized, controlled trial,” Wednesday in The Lancet Oncology.

The findings of the British researchers added to the already voluminous, in some cases contrasting, data on breast cancer screening. In the United States, for instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women at risk must undergo their first mammogram when they are already 40 years old.

The organization also suggests they should repeat the test once every two years until they reach the age of 74. The USPSTF panel of experts believes that conducting the test before 50 runs the risk of picking up a lot of false-positives and may result in "overdiagnosis" of breast cancer. All of these, they say, cause unnecessary stress and expense. Experts also warned women in their 40s who wanted to undergo mammogram screening should first discuss it with their physicians.

On the other, American Cancer Society says women between 40 and 44 years of age can undergo an annual mammogram screening if they want. However, the society added, it is a must for the 45 to 54 years old group to undergo the annual mammogram screening.

In an attempt to fix the contrasting opinions of these two organizations, Duffy and his fellow researchers analyzed data of more than 160,000 women who are 39 to 41 years old from the U.K. Breast Screening Age Trial. These are the women randomly chosen between the years 1990 and 1997 to undergo either a yearly mammogram or wait until they reach 50 to start screening.

The British researchers, after analyzing 23 years of data, found a link between conducting the exam at ages 40 to 49 and a 25% drop in breast cancer deaths in the first 10 years. They also discovered the rate of overdiagnosed cancers brought about by early screening did not adversely impact the burden of overdiagnoses typically seen when screening starts at age 50 or older.

Duffy added that advancements in technology mean conducting the mammogram at an early time is more beneficial. "We now screen more thoroughly and with better equipment than in the 1990s, when most of the screening in this trial took place, so the benefits may be greater than we've seen in this study," the British researcher hypothesized.