New Mammography Guidelines

On November 16, 2009, The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced that it is changing its guidelines for mammography and no longer recommends routine screening for women between the ages of 40 and 49 who are at average risk for developing breast cancer. Until a better tool for early detection is found, Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) maintains its position that current screening recommendations should remain.

Although LBBC acknowledges the limitations of mammography, we stand by the National Cancer Institute’s recommendation that each woman needs to consider the individual benefits and risks and discuss them with her healthcare provider before making a decision about when to start screening mammography and how often to get one.

The proposed new guidelines recommend starting regular screening mammograms at age 50 and continuing every other year instead of every year, as recommended in current guidelines. The new guidelines also recommend against breast self-examination. These new guidelines are based on research that suggests false-positive test results, overdiagnosis, and unnecessary earlier treatment outweigh the benefits of routine screening for women with average risk of developing breast cancer.

It is important to emphasize that the new guidelines are for women considered at “average” risk of developing breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer and those with a family history or other factors (a positive BRCA gene mutation, for example) are considered to be at a “higher” risk of developing breast cancer and are likely to receive a recommendation for more frequent mammography screening or beginning screening at an earlier age than the average risk woman.

“Although mammography is not a perfect test, yearly screening mammography has been repeatedly shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer in all age groups,” said LBBC Medical Advisory Board member Debra Somers Copit, MD, director of breast imaging at Albert Einstein Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of radiology, Jefferson Medical College.

We know this issue raises concerns, especially for young women. Regardless of your age or history of breast cancer, if you have unusual changes in your breasts, you should consult a healthcare provider and discuss whether or not a mammogram or other testing is necessary.

For more information about mammography and other forms of breast cancer screening, please visit our transcripts page.

What are your thoughts on the new guidelines?

10 thoughts on “New Mammography Guidelines

  1. How can this organization make this statement? It is so irresponsible! I was 29 years old when I found a lump in my breast that was cancer. 12 years later I am a healthy mother of 3 beautiful children. I was “average” risk, no family history, etc. This study scares me. How many women will now put off self exams and mammograms in fear of a “false positive”? What happens to these women when they all hit 50 and we discover cancer that has been growing for years? Organizations such as LLBC and others have done so much to educate women about when they should be screened and now this?? Shame on “USPSTF”.

  2. My mammogram at age 45 found my cancer when there was no detectable lump. Federally funded panel has now decided mammos under 50 and self exams are not needed. I am not buying into this it is an outrage. As an R.N. for 26yrs. I see women in their 30s with breast cancer quite often and since a woman is diagnosed every 3 minutes and someone dies every 12 minutes I do not want some federally funded socialist panel telling me what is good for my body.

  3. These guidelines respond to “averages” and do not deal with the particular individual woman. Already women are cancelling appointments for screening and surgery . This puts women at a higher risk of dying from the disease and is irresponsible in my opinion. I’d prefer a false positive anyday. My cancer was found by a mammogram when I was 58-what if that was the year I skipped the test????? I also had no family history or risk factors. What were they thinking!

  4. It seems to be coming to light that these new “guidelines” are not based on wholly reliable science. I’ve seen and (on Helpline) talked to so many women of all ages whose cancers would not have been caught except by their mammograms. LBBC’s response is sensible. Additionally, the “guideline” recommending that breast self-examination should be eliminated is amazingly short-sighted (to be kind). I, and perhaps the majority of breast cancer patients I know, discovered my own cancer this way, and I urge all women, regardless of risk, to examine their own breasts for lumps, discharge, or odd-looking skin on a monthly basis.

  5. Thank you all for your comments! We know this is a heated topic and we will be posting a follow-up entry to our statement early next week. The entry will go more in-depth about why we chose our position. Keep your eyes posted!

  6. Thank you for looking at the real facts and determining that the current guidelines should remain as the ‘guide’. I resigned my membership with the National Breast Cancer Coalition because I oppose their position on this important issue.

    Though my breast cancer was identified at age 55, it was slow growing so I’m not sure when it started. However, it was identified as a follow-up to a mammogram, and there were 3 separate growths. I was stage 2, as one growth was over 2cm.

    A benefit of having mammograms in the forties that seems to be overlooked is the fact that the radiologist compares a current mammogram with previous years’. Having benchmarks in one’s 40’s is very important.

    It has always been a relief for me, rather than a stressful ‘psychologically impacting’ experience to have a mammogram. Even if I would have had a false positive I would gladly go through it again in my 40’s.

    I’m concerned that insurance companies will still try to use the recommendations as a reason not to pay. For example, Blue Cross has quoted the fact that there aren’t ‘enough studies’ to support things like P450 testing (for the liver enzyme processing of medications). Some people will just not go through the hassle of appealing the insurance company’s decision.

  7. I am a 36 year old, newly diagnosed Stage 2 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, with two seperate primary masses and lymph node involvement. Without “self exam” I would not have knowledge of the cancer growing in my body. I was shocked when told by 3 seperate physicians that guidelines were changing. Who are they looking out for?
    Are they wanting more women to die?

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