The issue of younger women and mammograms

At a recent conference I attended, a lady raised the question of whether women under 40 should have regular mammograms. It led to a heated discussion with the medical panel, as this lady felt that routine mammograms from the age of 35 should be the recommendation. In general, regular mammograms are not recommended for women  in this instance,  because breast tissue tends to be more dense in young women, making mammograms less effective as a screening tool and may miss small cancers.

Research from The Lancet medical journal (2006) questions the benefit of women starting annual mammograms at age 40.  Data from a large UK study of more than 160,000 women finds that mammogram screening in younger women may provide little benefit in terms of reducing breast cancer risk, while at the same time exposing women to more radiation and the possibility of false alarms.

I believe that there isn’t good evidence for offering routine breast screening to women under the age of 40 years. The exception to this is in the case of  younger women who have a strong family history of breast cancer.   I would add that if they feel they are in this category, they should have their risk individually assessed by a specialist at a family risk assessment breast cancer clinic. 

MRI scans are an alternative to mammograms. These use magnetic rays to look at breast tissue. Four out of five studies that have compared MRI scans to mammograms have found that MRI scans are better at detecting early breast cancers in younger women.

 The family risk assessment breast cancer clinic is located at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Dublin.