Mammograms beginning at age 40: still recommended

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently changed its guidelines recommending that women begin mammogram screenings at age 50, with follow-ups every two years. However, most doctors are still following the American Cancer Society's guidelines to begin annual screenings at age 40.

At 47, D'Iberville resident Sherry Cooley is a breast cancer patient whose cancer would likely have been missed had she waited to have her mammogram at age 50. Cooley is a registered nurse at Garden Park Medical Center in Gulfport. She deals with illness and disease every day, but still never thought she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I was extremely surprised. I have no family history. I'm the first in my family to have breast cancer."

Sherry was diagnosed in August after having her routine annual mammogram.

"We found it early. I do monthly self checks and it was not detectable feeling it, so the only way was with a mammogram."

General Surgeon Dr. Paul Mace says Sherry's case is one of many that would potentially be missed if women followed the recommendations to have mammograms beginning at age 50.

"If you exclude women 40 to 50, you're looking at probably 40 to 50 percent of women who have breast cancer in those age brackets. My concern is if you push that back to age 50 for initial mammograms, we're going to miss a lot of patients who will come in with later stage breast cancer that is not as treatable."

Dr. Mace says early detection is the key. And in addition to annual mammograms beginning at age 40, women need to be proactive in other ways.

"The more women can do as far as doing their self-breast exams at the same time every month, getting their mammograms on time every year, seeing their primary doctor or ob-gyn, making sure you are covering all of your bases. That's where we see early detection and that's when we save lives."

For Sherry, early diagnosis and treatment meant getting back to her normal routine, putting her cancer behind her much sooner. Because Sherry's cancer was found early, she required no chemotherapy after her mastectomy, and she will finish with her breast reconstruction in December.

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