New mammogram guidelines could help catch breast cancer early

RICHMOND, Va. -- Amy Mason can find humor in just about anything --even in her wig, Leslie.

"We'll be getting ready to go and I'll say ‘somebody go get Leslie. She's got to go with us,’” Amy Mason said. “I have a great wig.”

Laughter is good medicine for the single mother of three who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.

"It's like a punch. A hard punch. You can't breathe,” Mason said.

Amy Mason

Once a week, Amy travels from North Carolina to VCU Massey Cancer Center for her treatments. She has triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.

"If I would have waited, it probably would have had metastasized to other places and been a very sick person,” Mason said.

The 49-year-old has gotten mammograms every year for the last eight years.

That helped doctors compare previous results when they spotted a tumor in December after doing a 3D mammogram which doctors recommend.

"If she would have had her first mammogram at age 50, she would have lost a year of time in the treatment of her cancer,” said Dr. Kandace McGuire.

McGuire, chief of breast surgery at Massey, backs new mammogram guidelines from the American Society of Breast Surgeons. The new guidelines include recommendations for personalized screening plans for women of varying degrees of cancer risk, based on family history and the results of genetic counseling.

The key recommendations include:

  1. Women over 25 should undergo a formal risk assessment for breast cancer.
  2. Women with an average risk of breast cancer should initiate yearly screening mammography at age 40.
  3. Women with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer should undergo yearly screening mammography and be offered yearly supplemental imaging; this screening should be initiated at a risk-based age.
  4. Screening mammography should cease when life expectancy is less than 10 years.

Starting mammograms at age 40 is a big difference from current guidelines from the U.S preventative task force that recommends starting mammograms at age 50 and every other year.

“And what we found there was a 15 percent reduction in mortality in women who began their mammogram at age 40,” McGuire said.

McGuire said those recommendations from other groups were based on mammography techniques that are 20 years old.

Amy Mason

“We have better mammography now that’s more effective, more accurate for women,” McGuire said.

With different guidelines out there, which one should patients follow?

"This is a personal decision that a patient needs to make with her healthcare provider,” McGuire said.

For Mason, she's just taking life day by day.

"Enjoy every moment and appreciate the little things,” Mason said.

Mason says she has Stage 3 breast cancer because more tumors were discovered after diagnosis. She has six more chemo treatments and is expected to have surgery in August.

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