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New Mammogram Screening Guidelines FAQ

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Will insurance pay for a mammogram if I'm younger than 50 or older than 74? continued...

American Cancer Society national volunteer president Elizabeth T.H. Fontham, MD, says there is a good chance that Medicare and private insurers will stop paying for annual mammogram screenings and screening for women in their 40s and over 74.

"Ultimately, this could increase economic disparities associated with breast cancer screening," Fontham says. "Women who want to be screened and can pay for it can still get screened. But those who can't pay may be out of luck."

What if I find a lump and I'm younger than 50 or older than 74?

The new guidelines are just about routine screening mammograms. They're not about getting a mammogram when you have a lump or other suspicious finding or if you're at high risk of breast cancer.

Any woman, of any age, should get a suspicious lump or other breast change checked out.

Why is routine screening no longer recommended for women of average risk before age 50 and after age 74?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) will continue to recommend annual mammography screening to all healthy women starting at age 40.

Fontham says since age is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer, it makes little sense to stop screening relatively healthy women when they reach age 75.

"Screening would be a disservice for a woman in her 80s with three or four serious health conditions who could not tolerate treatment even if a tumor was found," Fontham says. "But there are plenty of relatively healthy women in their late 70s and 80s for whom screening may be appropriate."

In a joint statement emailed to WebMD, the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Society of Breast Imaging say the new guidelines could cost women's lives.

Calling the guidelines a "cost-cutting" measure, the ACR states that "two decades of decline in breast cancer mortality could be reversed and countless American women may die needlessly from breast cancer each year."

In the statement, Carol H. Lee, MD, chairwoman of the ACR's Breast Imaging Commission, calls the USPSTF recommendations "unfounded." Lee adds, "Mammography is not a perfect test, but it has unquestionably been shown to save lives -- including in women aged 40-49."

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