Ask the docs: Breast cancer information can be confusing

King Features SyndicateMarch 29, 2014 

Q: There are so many contradictory opinions about the best way to detect breast cancer. I don't know what to believe. What works?

ANON.

A: Great question. There's a lot of confusion because of the data from a 1980 Canadian mammography study and its 25-year-long follow-up. The conclusions? Mammograms don't prevent more deaths from breast cancer than today's standard medical care for ages 40-49, or annual breast exams for those 50-59. But here's the shocker: Mammograms lead to a substantial number of false positives and unnecessary treatment.

Still, cancers detected in the study's mammogram group were somewhat smaller and less likely to have spread to the lymph nodes than those detected in the control group. This means that some women who did NOT get mammograms may have needed more aggressive surgery and treatment to attain the same positive results as those in the mammogram group.

Our best advice: Try to see the same gynecologist every year for your breast exams. Having a doctor who knows your medical history is important.

Get a baseline mammogram at age ... 40 ... or 50 (many organizations debate this); then every two years after that. But have your first mammogram earlier and more frequently if you have any family history of breast cancer or are BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 positive.

A monthly breast self-exam isn't recommended. But if you're too young for a mammogram, a self-exam plus an annual exam at your doctor's may be your best bet for early detection.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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