Meanwhile developing a single, perfect detection tool for spotting breast cancer remains a tall order. “The technology needs to be able to identify many, preferably most or all, of the people who have the disease,” says David Dershaw, attending radiologist and emeritus director of breast imaging at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “It needs to be reasonably noninvasive, tolerable and acceptable to people so they will undergo the test. It needs to be not very expensive. And it has to be widely available.” Nothing under study fits that bill better than mammograms do—at least for now.
Where does that leave women in their 40s? Many doctors who no longer advise mammograms for most women younger than 50 continue to suggest them for those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. But for now the majority of women in their 40s will have to continue to struggle with the to-screen-or-not-to-screen question—and a realization that when it comes to tracking down breast cancer, there is still no perfect tool.