DALLAS — Had Linda Gage waited until she was 50 to get her first mammogram, she'd be dead by now.
"I had a very aggressive form, and I was 47," she said.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which establishes guidelines often followed by insurance companies, currently recommends mammograms starting at age 50.
But a new study in the medical journal Cancer argues in favor of younger screening. According to research on 600 breast cancer deaths, more than half were in women under the age of 50.
Seventy-one percent never had a screening mammogram.
"Those cancers that are found earlier are typically the more aggressive type, and so they need to be found very early in stage so they can be treated successfully," explained Dr. Theresa Patton.
Methodist Dallas Medical Center Dr. Theresa Patton supports the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Cancer Society recommendations for annual mammograms at age 40. She conceded that the conflicting scientific messages are very confusing to patients.
"I had lots of women say, 'Do I even need this any more?'" Dr. Patton said.
Many states require private insurance companies, Medicaid, and public employee health plans to provide coverage or reimbursement for specific health services and procedures. In Texas, screening mammograms are paid for starting at age 35.
Mammograms for breast cancer screening are covered by the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that these be provided without a co-pay or deductible beginning with plan years starting after August 1, 2012. This does not apply to health plans that were in place before the new law was passed.
Linda Gage — who never goes anywhere without a pink ribbon and bracelet — recommends another free screening: Self-exams. That's how she found her breast cancer.
"Makes you stop and think again just how lucky you are," Gage said. "I feel very blessed. So get your mammogram. Do your screening."