New age requirement for mammography? Doctors say not even close

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A new study reveals more women are not getting mammogram screenings for breast cancer and some doctors are even saying that moving the age requirement from 50 to 30 could potentially save more lives.

Jenny Ferguson, who had a prophylactic double mastectomy, says an earlier age requirement could've saved her sister's life.

"My sister was too young for mammogram's. She was 39 when she was diagnosed and she did not live to her 40th birthday. Normally, your baseline mammogram is at 40 and she was not old enough and died two weeks before her 40th birthday," Ferguson said.

A baseline mammogram is the first mammogram you can get, and Ferguson says her mother's breast cancer was detected during her first mammogram.

"Early detection in my mother's case—it saved her life. She had not been to the doctor in 25 years at the time that she had her first mammogram and it did detect her breast cancer and she did have a mastectomy within a month of having her mammogram and it truly saved her life," Ferguson said.

Dr. Christopher Sherman, the director of breast imaging at Nacogdoches Medical Center, says the American Cancer Society recommends a baseline screening mammogram at age 35 and then an annual mammogram at age 40. 

"It's just because it's so rare to have it under the age of 35 towards women getting it at a younger and younger age. Statistically, under the age of 35, breast cancer is rare. Although, it seems like women under 40 are getting diagnosed, but you know the women who are over 40 are still at risk. The vast majority is typically over the age of 70. But I have to reiterate the American Cancer Society guidelines that the annual mammogram is the age of 40," Sherman said.

Ferguson says she, like other women, dreaded getting the mammogram.

"For the next 3 years, I dreaded having my mammogram. I didn't want to go. It wasn't if I was going to get breast cancer, it was when I'm going to get breast cancer so I kept putting it off. I finally decided, you know, I can't live like this so I had a mammogram and I had some changes from the previous year from the mammogram the previous year and at that time I decided I was going to have a prophylactic double mastectomy," Ferguson said.

Sherman says there are about 50,000 women in Angelina County and only 16,000 of those women are getting annual mammogram's. That means approximately 34,000 women are not. He says that having an annual mammogram helps them detect if there is a risk for breast cancer.

"What we're looking for with breast cancer is just a little blip on the mammogram and when you're getting them every year and we're able to compare with last year or the year before or even the year before that, it really helps us," Sherman said.

Sherman says that despite the age requirement he does realize that younger women are getting diagnosed with breast cancer and he recommends all women between the ages of 35 and 39 should have a baseline screening mammogram.

"I'm really hard pressed. If you're 24 and you feel a lump you should go see a doctor immediately and have it evaluated. We definitely have some people here to do the biopsies and surgery and what all that needs to be done," Sherman said.

Ferguson says she didn't wait until her 40's to do the baseline mammogram.

"When my mother was diagnosed, I started requesting from my physician in my early 30's to at least have a baseline. It was comforting to me to know that I didn't have breast cancer. I worried about it and I think the mammogram gave me a little bit of comfort to know that I didn't have it," Ferguson said.

Sherman says the age requirement shouldn't hinder women, who might have genetic risks of breast cancer, to request a baseline.

"No test is 100 percent, but mammography…it's called the gold standard. Nothing has been able to beat it. I think as far as screening exams, it is one of the best screening exams," Sherman said.

Sherman says deciding to get a mastectomy if you do have a genetic risk factor is an individual decision, and Ferguson agrees.

"It's an individual decision and once you do have a mammogram and you do get a diagnosis there are very difficult decisions to make at that point," Ferguson said. "Mammogram's are beneficial…everyone should have one at the recommendations at their physicians, and you just can't put a price on peace of mind," Ferguson said.