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New Study Questions Federal Mammogram Guidelines

By Melissa Newton, CBS 11 News
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A woman receives a mammogram screening. (credit: Getty Images/D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

A woman receives a mammogram screening. (credit: Getty Images/D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Survivors, non-profit organizations and doctors all say early detection is the key to living beyond a breast cancer diagnosis.

Now, a new study is raising questions about the current government recommendations determining when women should get breast cancer screenings.

In Nov. 2009, the U.S. Preventative Task Force revealed new guidelines recommending women start having mammograms every two years starting when they turn 50 instead of annual mammograms beginning at 40.

It also recommended doing away with self-breast exams all together, saying they do not impact the mortality rate.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Nearly 40,000 women died from breast cancer last year.

Gynna Harlin is living proof that early detection saves lives.

“I was diagnosed when I was 40,” said the 11-year survivor. “I had three small children, I had no family history, no indicators that I might be at a higher risk for cancer; so it was a surprise.”

Harlin worries that the current guidelines from the task force will discourage women from taking the right precautions.

“A lot of women came in asking questions,” said Dr. Noushin Firouzbakht of Texas Health Harris Methodist and Fort Worth Female Health Associates. “They were confused; what are the recommendations now?”

Firouzbakht’s advice to her patients never changed, despite the 2009 guidelines.

“Mortality and morbidity, meaning suffering from the breast cancer found, if it is breast cancer, is less if you detect it earlier.” she said.

New research seems to back that claim.

An analysis of the data used by the task force found a woman who gets annual mammograms starting at 40 reduces her risk of dying from breast cancer by 71 percent compared to 23 percent under the current recommendations.

The research published in the American Journal of Roentgenology even said annual mammograms starting at age 40 could save 65,000 women from breast cancer.

“They save so many lives and that’s what we’re trying to do.” said Ann Greenhill, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Greater Fort Worth. “We want everyone to live a long and productive life, and mammograms are so important.”

“If I was not going to my doctor yearly, if I was not getting mammograms, no, I’m sure I would have a much different story,” Harlin said, “if I would even be here to tell it right now.”

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