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Benefits of Early Mammograms Still Unclear

No statistical difference in mortality from screening starting at 40 versus 50 years old

FRIDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- The benefits of routine annual screening mammography for women aged 40 to 49 are still unclear, according to a report published in the Dec. 9 issue of The Lancet. The potential harmful effects from screening, including radiation-induced breast cancer, should be carefully weighed by both physician and patient.

Sue Moss, Ph.D., of the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, U.K., and colleagues randomly allocated 160,921 women to receive annual mammography invitations starting either at 40 or 50 years of age -- 50 years is standard in the current U.K. National Health Service breast screening program.

The investigators found that breast cancer mortality was down by 17 percent in the younger group during an average follow-up of 10.7 years, but the difference was not statistically significant. Younger women also had nearly twice the number of false positives as those over 50 years.

"Every woman, with her physician's guidance, should decide whether regret will be greater if she develops breast cancer that could have been detected earlier by screening mammography, or if she develops breast cancer later in life as a result of screening mammography itself," Benjamin Djulbegovic, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of South Florida in Tampa, and a colleague write in an accompanying comment.

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