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What do you think of the new breast cancer screening recommendations?

MammogramI’ve never been a big fan of annual mammograms as a tool for breast cancer screening. And, I’ve thought that 40 is too young to start.

My concern is the small amount of radiation that breasts are exposed to during the mammogram.

Tuesday, the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for breast cancer screening. Among the changes, the new recommendations say all women should begin having yearly mammograms at age 45 instead of 40, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55.

New research has helped doctors understand the best ways to use mammograms for screening, said Richard C. Wender, M.D., the society’s chief cancer control officer.

“Since we last wrote a breast cancer screening guideline, there have been the publication of quite a number of new studies that inform us about the benefits and drawbacks of screening with mammography, so the American Cancer Society commissioned a detailed evidence review by an external expert group to review all of this new data which was then presented to our American Cancer Society guideline committee,” said Wender.

He said the committee considered the evidence over a period of months, worked on balancing the benefits and harms, and changed the guidelines.

Some patient advocacy groups are critical of the changes.

While the guidelines are concerned about the harms of unnecessary biopsies and overtreatment, the harms of a missed or late diagnosis don’t seem to be considered, Breastcancer.org said in a statement in response to the society’s recommendations.

“Breastcancer.org believes that saving even one life is worth more regular screening,” the organization said.

It also said the new society guidelines don’t take into account the improvements that 3D mammography add to breast cancer screening.

For more information on how to sort through the society’s new recommendations, see this excerpt from Susan Love, M.D.’s, book “Confused About Screenings? Breast Health Expert Susan Love Explains All.”

Love, author of “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book,” describes the shortcomings of mammograms, which she says are the best technology available currently. She also describes how older women’s breast change after menopause; they become less dense and have more fatty tissue. Breast cancer is easier to diagnose in them, hence the recommendation for mammograms every other year at age 55.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to recommend that regular screenings begin at 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of professionals whose members are appointed by the federal government, recommends women between ages 50 and 74 get a mammogram every two years.

The new recommendations

  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer – most women – should begin yearly mammograms at age 45.
  • Women should be able to start the screening as early as age 40, if they want to. It’s a good idea to start talking to your health care provider at age 40 about when you should begin screening.
  • At age 55, women should have mammograms every other year – though women who want to keep having yearly mammograms should be able to do so.
  • Regular mammograms should continue for as long as a woman is in good health.
  • Breast exams, either from a medical provider or self-exams, are no longer recommended.

The guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer, the society said. Women at high risk – because of family history, a breast condition, or another reason – need to begin screening earlier and/or more often.

For more information about the society’s breast cancer screening recommendations, call 800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org/breastcancer.

Resources from the society

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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