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New Mammogram Screening Guidelines FAQ

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The new guidelines don't apply to women at high risk for breast cancer. How often should these women get screened?

The new guidelines aren't about women at high risk of breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society defines high-risk as women with a greater than 20% lifetime risk of breast cancer. This includes women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations and women who have not been tested but have a parent, sibling, or child with a BRCA mutation, as well as certain other groups of women.

The ACS recommends that high-risk women have annual mammograms along with an MRI beginning at age 30 and continuing for as long as they are in good health.

Women with a 15% to 20% lifetime risk for breast cancer are considered to have a moderately increased risk for the disease.

ACS recommends that these women talk to their doctors about the benefits and risks of adding MRI to annual mammogram screening.

If a woman's breast cancer risk increases with age, why stop screening at 74?

Very few breast cancer screening studies include women in their mid-70s and older. The task force noted that "breast cancer is a leading cause of death in older women, which might suggest that the benefits of screening could be important at this age."

However, the USPSTF also concluded that the benefits of screening are probably not as great for older women because they tend to have breast cancers that respond well to treatment and have a higher risk of dying from other causes.

The panel noted that the risk of overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment is greater in elderly women than in younger ones because of their increased risk for death from other causes.

Do the new guidelines apply to women taking hormone therapy?

The panel did not address this question. Hormone therapy increases a woman's risk for breast cancer. The general consensus among the experts who talked to WebMD was that women on hormone therapy should discuss annual screening with their doctors.

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Reviewed on November 16, 2009

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