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New Mammogram Screening Guidelines FAQ

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."

Why is the USPSTF recommending routine mammograms every two years instead of every year?

Because that's the time frame that looked beneficial to the task force.

Studies showing a reduction in breast cancer deaths associated with mammography included screening intervals of 12 to 33 months. The evidence indicated that most of the benefits of screening are maintained when mammography is performed every two years as opposed to every one, while the harms are reduced by nearly half.

Kathryn Evers, MD, who directs the mammography program at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center, tells WebMD she will continue to recommend annual mammograms to her patients.

"The evidence shows that by changing to biannual screening you lose some of the mortality benefits seen with yearly screening," Evers says.

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