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Breast Cancer Health Center

Panel: Screening Mammogram Guidelines Change

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommends Routine Mammography Screening Every 2 Years
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Mammography Screening Every 2 Years

All agree that annual mammography screenings save lives.

But based on the research analysis and risk-assessment model, the task force concluded the harms of telling women to have a mammogram every year starting at age 40 outweigh the benefits.

According to the newly published research analysis:

  • 1,904 women between the ages of 39 and 49 would need to be invited for screening to have one breast cancer death prevented.
  • 1,339 women between the ages of 50 and 59 would need to be invited for screening to prevent one death.
  • 377 women between the ages of 60 and 69 would need to be invited for screening to prevent one death.

According to the risk-assessment model, about 60% more false-positive results could be expected for every 1,000 mammograms performed when screening is started at age 40 instead of 50.

Jeanne S. Mandelblatt, MD, MPH, of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center led the research team that developed the model.

The team concluded that mammogram screening every two years achieves most of the benefits of annual screening with far fewer false-positives and other negative outcomes.

"Mammogram screening clearly has benefits, but there are potential risks as well," she tells WebMD. "Women need to discuss their own individual balance of risks and benefits with their health care providers."

Brawley: ‘Women Want Mammograms’

The American Cancer Society’s Brawley says surveys show women understand the limitations of mammography but still place a high value on breast cancer screening.

“With its new recommendations, the USPSTF is essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives; just not enough of them,” he notes.

In 2003, an ACS expert panel reviewed much of the same research as the USPSTF panel but came to very different conclusions about who should be screened and how often, ACS volunteer president Elizabeth T.H. Fontham, MD, tells WebMD.

She worries the competing recommendations will confuse women and keep those who most need mammograms from getting them.

“It would be a terrible thing if women conclude that mammography screening is not useful,” she says. “One thing we know for sure is that mammography saves lives. That is true for women in their 40s, for women 75 and older, and for all women in between.”

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