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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Panel: Screening Mammogram Guidelines Change

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommends Routine Mammography Screening Every 2 Years
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 16, 2009 – A government appointed expert panel is calling for huge changes in breast cancer screening in the United States, but a leading cancer group is highly critical of the move.

In newly revised guidelines, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends against routine mammography screening for average-risk women in their 40s.

USPSTF also says women between the ages of 50 and 74 should have mammogram screenings every two years instead of every year.

Routine screening is not recommended for women older than 74.

In addition, the government task force:

  • Concluded women and their doctors should base the decision to start mammography before age 50 on the woman’s individual risks and preferences.
  • Recommends against breast self-exams based on findings from two large studies showing the practice to have no value.
  • Concluded more evidence is needed to determine if clinical breast exams performed by trained medical professionals are useful.
  • Concluded more research is needed before recommendations for or against mammography screening after age 74 can be made.
  • Concluded there is not enough evidence to know if the newer digital mammography or MRI are superior to traditional film mammography.

ACS Does Not Support Changes

The dramatically revised guidelines were based on a comprehensive analysis of the research exploring the benefits and risks of breast cancer screening and a risk-benefit model commissioned by USPSTF.

Task force vice-chairwoman Diana B. Petitti, MD, MPH, says the new recommendations do not mean average-risk women younger than 50 and older than 74 should never be screened.

Rather, they are meant to foster discussion between these women and their doctors about the risks vs. benefits of routine screening.

Potential risks include anxiety, unnecessary biopsy, and unnecessary treatment of cancers that would never become life threatening.

"A woman who still wants to be screened after having the conversation with her clinician and considering the balance of benefits and harms should absolutely be screened," Pettiti tells WebMD.

The American Cancer Society will continue to recommend annual routine mammography screening for all healthy women age 40 and over, ACS Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, MD, confirmed in a statement issued today.

"This is one screening test I recommend unequivocally, and would recommend to any woman 40 and over, be she a patient, a stranger, or a family member," he notes.

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