New Harvard Study Shows Benefits of Early Mammograms

Updated: 09/10/2013 10:19 AM By: Naomi Pescovitz

A mammogram may be the most powerful tool in the battle against breast cancer, but many experts disagree on when to get the screening test.

New information released Monday says younger women can benefit from mammograms. The latest study comes out of Harvard University, where researchers say mammograms before the age of 50 could save lives. Just a few years ago, a top national medical panel gave a conflicting recommendation.

"This is very controversial, when should a woman start getting a screening mammogram?" said ABC Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said women should start getting mammograms every other year at age 50.

The new Harvard study looked at more than 600 breast cancer deaths. More than 70 percent of those studied had never had a mammogram. Half were women under 50 years old.

"Because breast cancer tends to be more aggressive in younger women, catching it early is very important so that treatment can be instituted," said Dr. Patricia Bruer, a radiologist at Hope Chest Breast Center of North Memorial.

Bruer says mammogram screening should start at age 40, advice in line with the American Cancer Society.

"Anecdotally I've seen tremendous finds and saves throughout my career and I think it's very important," Bruer said.

Lisa Bender was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 12 weeks pregnant. 32-years-old at the time, she had ever had a mammogram.

"Most young women are diagnosed after they find a lump, and that's why our survival rates are actually lower than post menopausal women," Bender said.

Now pregnant with a second little girl, Bender is looking to their future.

"I expect the research to continue to evolve and change but the more definitive the research is, the easier it is to make decisions," Bender said.

The new Affordable Care Act requires mammogram insurance coverage without a co-pay or deductible for most new plans. In Minnesota, most plans cover mammograms if they are recommended by a physician.