Should You Get a Mammogram? And how Often?
Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force dramatically
changed their recommendations on when (and how often) women should have
routine mammograms. To make matters even more perplexing, the federal
panel’s new guidelines contradict
longstanding advice from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The lively
debate will undoubtedly continue for several months, but here are the
major questions being asked…
What exactly are the new guidelines? There
are three important changes.
■ Until age 50,
women do not need routine mammograms unless they are considered to
be at increased risk for breast cancer. (See factors
that define this higher-risk category.)
■ Between ages 50
and 74, women should have a routine mammogram every two years. Beyond
age 74, the panel concluded that both the benefits and risks of the
test are scientifically uncertain.
■ Monthly self-examination
is no longer recommended and the value of a doctor’s manual
exam is not scientifically certain.
What makes this new advice so controversial? It
departs significantly from the old standard, which was a mammogram
every year, for every woman, starting at age 40 along with monthly
self exam (and an annual doctor’s manual exam). Some
experts worry that the new guidelines will keep younger women from
being routinely screened in time for early diagnosis and, therefore,
How common is breast cancer? It’s
the most common cancer in American women.Experts say
that 1 in every 8 will develop the disease. Just for the sake of
comparison, lung cancer (the second most common malignancy in females)
strikes one in 14 women. Maybe even more important, in terms
of reacting to the new guidelines: a woman’s risk of breast
cancer increases steadily with age.
Your age… Your
risk for breast cancer
1 in 1,985
1 in 229
1 in 68
1 in 37
1 in 26
1 in 24
Do mammograms improve your odds? Research
definitely shows that they reduce your chances of dying from the
disease. Overall, your risk of dying from breast cancer after age
40 is 3 percent. Scientific studies indicate that getting an annual
mammogram lowers that risk by 15 percent in women between the ages
of 40 and 59.
So why not start having a yearly mammogram, as early
as possible? The fact is, nobody thinks mammography
is an ideal diagnostic tool. Screenings don’t always detect
abnormalities that are present, especially in younger women because
the density of their breast tissue makes images difficult to read.
Ironically, however, this helps explain why almost half of all
mammograms done on women under age 50 yield “suspicious” results
that require follow-up tests, often including biopsies. These supplemental
procedures can be painful and they themselves involve risks. For
example, mammograms expose women to radiation, and while many experts
feel the risks are insignificant, others say that premenopausal
women screened annually over a 10-year period are exposed to enough
radiation to potentially increase their risk of developing the
disease. And the younger the woman, the more sensitive her breast
is to radiation exposure.
Will insurance still cover annual mammograms for women
under 50? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee. Insurance
companies are strongly influenced by private groups, such as the
ACS, which still recommends annual screens beginning at age 40.
Additionally, companies also tend to cover the cost of tests that
qualified medical professionals deem necessary. So if you speak
with your doctor and decide together that, despite the new guidelines,
you should be screened annually—then regardless of your age,
your provider may pay. Worst case scenario, you can always pay
out-of-pocket for the test, which generally costs about $100.
What’s the bottom line? The panel
urges every woman to discuss the matter with her physician and
come to an agreement about how best to protect her health. Also
worth noting: respected research shows that women can reduce their
risk for breast cancer by limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly
and maintaining appropriate weight. Breast feeding for at least
several months also reduces risk, as does avoiding post-menopausal
What Increases Your Risk for Breast Cancer?
1. Two first-degree relatives (a mother, sister or daughter) or second-degree
relatives (a grandmother, aunt or granddaughter) who developed
breast cancer before age 50.
2. Three first- or second-degree relatives who developed
breast cancer at any age.
3. A known gene mutation that is linked with
Can Caffeine Really Counter Too Much Alcohol?
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have learned that coffee isn’t as good
an antidote to alcohol as many people think. The caffeine does
counteract the “subjective” effects of too many drinks, but doesn’t
reverse the “performance” effects.
So people think they’re sober, but their reaction time
and judgment remain just as impaired. That’s why, says investigator
Roland Griffiths, “College
kids who are using combinations of caffeine and alcohol are more
likely to be involved in accidents than those consuming just
alcohol.” Amazing-Health Tip: Help
soothe hangover pain by drinking a banana milkshake sweetened
with honey. It works!
Eggs: The New Weight Loss Secret
Containing a whopping 5 grams of fat apiece, eggs have been eliminated
by many people
aiming for a healthy diet. Recent studies suggest
that they may want to reconsider. A Louisiana State University
investigation enrolled overweight research subjects. Half were
asked to eat two eggs for breakfast at least five times a week.
The others were asked to eat a bagel (which contained the same
number of calories). After two months, investigators found that
those who ate eggs consumed, on average, 300 fewer calories each
day. They lost 65% more weight, reduced their waist measurement
83% more and reported feeling more energetic than their bagel-eating
counterparts. Amazing-Health Tip: Avoid
eggs if you have diabetes. A recent study of nearly 118,000 people
with the disease found that those who ate even one egg daily
increased their risk of heart disease.
Frankincense Extract Soothes Arthritis Pain
Results are out on the first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trail on the effects of frankincense extract in relieving osteoarthritis pain. The University of California-Davis study lasted 90 days and involved 75 patients. The treatment group not only showed significant improvement in knee joint function and marked reduction in pain; but benefits were felt as quickly as seven days after starting to take the extract. Amazing-Health Tip: You
can read the full research study abstract at http://arthritis-research.com/content/10/4/R85
The 4 Best Foods for Prostate Health
Benign prostate enlargement is the curse of middle age men worldwide.
More than half eventually develop the condition—with its annoying
urgency, painful urination, weak stream and sometimes erectile
dysfunction. Researchers have published findings from the large,
ongoing Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They tracked 24,000
men over 14 years and saw a lower incidence of enlargement among men
with diets high in vitamin C, beta-carotene and lutein. These men were
up to 16% less likely to suffer with symptoms and the findings were most
striking when the nutrients were consumed from food rather than
packaged supplements. Particularly protective are orange juice, peas,
peaches and spinach. Amazing-Health Tip: Use
frozen food in dishes where they retain their natural liquid.
Otherwise you’re losing valuable nutrients.
Tai Chi, the Ultimate Exercise
Americans are living longer, but falling more. Researchers
at Washington University in Saint Louis recently reported that about
one in every three people over age 70 falls each year. Nearly 2 million
of them are injured seriously enough that they seek an emergency
room. Experts agree
that the best way to avoid falling is to improve your balance. The
simplest approach is to practice standing first on one leg and then
the other, with your eyes closed. (Be sure there’s something
nearby to grab onto if you stumble.) A more formalized approach is
tai chi, the ancient Chinese martial art that stresses slow, balanced
movements. Four separate studies have found that doing tai chi three
times a week for three months can lower your risk of falling by as
much as 50%. And not a single injury was reported by any study participants. Amazing-Health
Tip: To learn more about the benefits of tai chi
and where classes are offered in your area, visit http://www.americantaichi.org