_The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published new (and controversial) guidelines for screening mammograms back in 2009, and ever since women have been wondering just how early and how often they should have a regular mammogram. Now the American Cancer Society (ACS) has increased the confusion with its own set of new guidelines. _
And just when you thought you’d nailed the schedule for your regular screening mammogram!
New ACS guidelines
The ACS today released its new recommendations for mammogram screening. The organization had long espoused yearly mammograms beginning at age 40, and was a chief critic of the USPSTF’s 2009 guideline revisions, which recommended screening begin at age 50; and be done only every other year.
Less aggressive screening
Now, the ACS has moved closer to that USPSTF schedule. While not entirely endorsing the task force’s “fewer, later, farther between” stance, the ACS now recommends women begin yearly screening at age 45 (not 40); and move to every-other-year screening beginning at age 55, with the argument being that tumors diagnosed in older women are generally slower-growing.
Why the change?
Potential overtreatment of small, unaggressive cancers has become an issue. Over the past 10 years or so there’s been a groundswell of dialogue around early detection of breast cancer tumors via mammogram, and whether finding cancer early makes a difference in outcome.
Current research shows that while early identification of cancer via mammogram can lessen the amount and types of treatment a woman undergoes, it doesn’t seem to impact length of life.
Mammograms are imperfect
Critics of the older model – mammograms every year beginning at age 40 – claim that the number of false-positive readings, particularly in younger women, produces too much anxiety, too many extra tests, and treatment where it’s not necessary.
The solution? Fewer mammograms – which should reduce the number of women getting callbacks, and sometimes subsequent treatment, substantially.
Physical breast exams no longer recommended
In addition, the ACS recommended that clinical breast exams no longer be part of a routine physical. The society recommended against breast self-exams (BSEs) several years ago, due to their apparent lack of effect on breast cancer survival rates; clinical exams have been judged equally ineffective.
The ACS is careful to note that these new guidelines apply only to women with an “average” risk of breast cancer. Women with a significant family history of the disease – and/or a genetic predisposition – should discuss with their doctor their own best screening schedule.** See more helpful articles:**** Breast Lump FAQS**
Cohen, Elizabeth. “New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines - CNN.com.” CNN. October 20, 2015. Accessed October 20, 2015. https://www.cnn.com/2015/10/20/health/new-acs-breast-cancer-screening-guidelines/.
Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel, a long-time contributor to the HealthCentral community, counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She founded and manages a large and active online survivor support network.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.