Get ready for a fight.
In a move that certainly came as a surprise to many, new recommendations by a panel published yesterday now recommend that regular mammograms start at 50, not 40 for most women. They also said that women should have mammograms every two years, not every year, from ages 50 to 74. And that breast self-exams may basically be useless.
The recommendations are made in hopes that women will avoid overscreening, unnecessary biopsies and needless anxiety. And it is based in scientific study of when most cancers are found, how aggressive they are, and how successful treatment turns out to be.
But it more likely leaves us conflicted over what it is exactly we’re supposed to do. And it worries some that coverage for annual mammograms for younger women could be dropped by insurance plans.
The American Cancer Society and M.D. Anderson, among others, disagree with the new recommendations.
From the New York Times:
“Just seven years ago, the same group, the United States Preventative Task Force, with different members, recommended that women have mammograms every one to two years starting at age 40. It found too little evidence then to take a stand on breast self-examinations.
“The task force is an independent panel of experts in prevention and primary care appointed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Its new guidelines, which are different from those of some professional and advocacy organizations, are published online in The Annals of Internal Medicine They are likely to touch off yet another round of controversy over the benefits of screening for breast cancer.”
The new guidelines do NOT apply to women with a higher risk of breast cancer, especially those who have had genetic screening for the breast cancer gene. Primarily, the hope is that each woman will discuss with her own doctor the pros and cons of having mammograms before age 50.
“We aren't against screening women in their 40s, we just don't think it should be routine,” said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the task force.