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Yale Encourages Breast Exams Starting at Age 40
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Despite new federal guidelines, Yale University breast cancer experts say women in their 40s should continue to get mammograms. WNPR’s Diane Orson reports.

The Preventive Services Task Force of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued controversial new guidelines in November advising women to wait until age 50 to start routine mammograms. That changes the long-accepted recommendation that women start screenings in their 40s.

Dr. Liane Philpotts is chief of breast imaging at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. She says it can be more difficult to find cancers in younger women, but mammography saves lives.  She calls the new guidelines “misguided”.

"They were generated looking at computer models with very little new data. And the data that is new is somewhat controversial,  particularly those studies that were done in Europe not using the same type of imaging that we do in the US."

The new recommendations also discourage teaching breast self-examination. On its website, the task force explains that breast cancer screening is stressful and can result in unnecessary tests and biopsies in women without cancer.  There’s also the added anxiety of false-positive screening results.  But Philpotts says that shouldn’t outweigh the benefits of early breast cancer detection.

"When you speak with patients,  unanimously, patients who have had a false positive are still glad that they underwent the imaging. They’re happy that if there was something,  that is would have been caught early."

She urges women to seek out high quality imaging centers that do a high volume of mammograms.

For WNPR, I’m Diane Orson.