New study reveals benefits of starting mammograms earlier

A new study calls in to question when women should start routine mammograms.

The current government age recommendation for bi-yearly mammograms is 50.

But a new Harvard study, which tracked breast cancer patients at two Boston hospitals during the 1990s, suggests lives could be saved if screenings started early, particularly before age 50.

The study found that 71 percent of women who ultimately died of breast cancer never had a mammogram prior to diagnosis. About half of the breast cancer deaths were women younger than 50.

One physician weighed in on the study's findings, pointing out the potential downside of false positives that can lead to unnecessary, sometime painful, biopsies.

"There is benefit in your 40s, just as there is in your 50s, but a woman has to decide if the benefits of having that mammogram when she's in her 40s outweigh any possible downside," said Dr. Richard Besser.

Regardless of the study's findings, insurance carriers are unlikely to change protocols. Some carriers cover mammograms at age 40; some at 50; some when recommended by a doctor.

If you have any risk factors, such as a genetic predisposition or family history of breast cancer, you should be advocating for early and regular screenings. Self-exams are also encouraged.