The trend of regular mammograms has begun to decline in recent years, which may seem like a detriment to breast cancer prevention and early treatment. However, the trend is a result of new findings that ask younger women to avoid regular screenings until a later age. Moreover, the drop in screenings is much more modest than researchers anticipated or desired.

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Governmental Recommendations

The latest mammogram trends have been influenced in part by recommendations from the United States Preventative Services Task Force back in 2009. Many medical groups and nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, generally advise that women begin undergoing annual mammograms after the age of 40. However, the recent recommendations seemingly overturned that advice, dismissing the necessity for annual mammograms at such a young age. The USPSTF also recommended semi-annual (every other year) mammograms for women between 50 and 74, with annual mammograms every year thereafter.

The justification behind these recommendations is that annual mammograms may be more of a detriment than a benefit. Unless a woman is genetically prone to developing breast cancer, a mammogram might only spot a slow-growing cancer, which might never be lethal, and lead to an unnecessary biopsy or other tests and treatments that may do damage to the body without being necessary.

The Research

The latest survey results, conducted by the Mayo Clinic, found a 6 percent drop in the mammograms pursued in younger women, defined as those under the age of 50. While the decrease is modest, researchers still consider it significant. The data, gathered from over 100 country-wide health plans between January 2006 and December 2010, included over eight million women between the ages of 40 and 64.

The reductions were more modest than researchers were anticipating, partly due to resistance to the latest recommendations. With conflicting advice from multiple perceived authorities on the subject, women are confused what route to take, and have a greater tendency to stick with the medical conventions to which they are already accustomed. Within six to eight weeks, a set of new data, which will include statistics from 2011, will be released, allowing researchers to more accurately and presently observe the trend.

The Importance Of Regular Mammograms

For years, organizations like the American Cancer Society have insisted that annual mammograms are necessary for any woman over the age of 40. Many breast cancer survivors, who owe their lives to early detection, also insist, based on their personal experiences, that early mammograms are prudent and necessary to maximize breast cancer survival. Mammograms can lead to early detection and more successful treatments, but the latest scientific data demonstrates that regular mammograms are only effective (over a wide population) when begun after the age of 50.

With multiple authorities offering conflicting information, it is no surprise that many women are confused. The latest data, which show a modest downward trend, represent a small step toward acceptance of the new requirements that the USPSTF has released. When the next set of data is released, researchers will have a better idea of how the trend might continue.