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Mammography Rates Unchanged Despite Guidelines

Annual screenings continue as women, doctors appear to be ignoring task force recommendations, new data shows

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- More than three years after controversial new guidelines rejected routine annual mammograms for most women, women in all age groups continue to get yearly screenings, a new survey shows.

In fact, mammogram rates actually increased overall, from 51.9 percent in 2008 to 53.6 percent in 2011, even though the slight rise was not considered statistically significant, according to the researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"There have been no significant changes in the rate of screening mammograms among any age group, but in particular among women under age 50," said the study leader, Dr. Lydia Pace, a global women's health fellow in the division of women's health at Brigham and Women's.

While the study did not look at the reasons for continued screening, the researchers speculated that conflicting recommendations from various professional organizations may play a role.

In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts, issued new guidelines that said women younger than 50 don't need routine annual mammograms and those 50 to 74 could get screened every two years. Before that, the recommendation was that all women aged 40 and older get mammograms every one to two years.

The recommendations ignited much controversy and renewed debate about whether delayed screening would increase breast cancer mortality. Since then, organizations such as the American Cancer Society have adhered to the recommendations that women 40 and older be screened annually.

To see what effect the new task force recommendations have had, the researchers analyzed data from almost 28,000 women over a six-year period -- before and after the new task force guidelines.

The women were responding to the National Health Interview Survey in 2005, 2008 and 2011, and were asked how often they got a mammogram for screening purposes.

Across the ages, there was no decline in screenings, the researchers found.

Among women 40 to 49, the rates rose slightly, from 46.1 percent in 2008 to 47.5 percent in 2011. Among women aged 50 to 74, the rates also rose, from 57.2 percent in 2008 to 59.1 percent in 2011.

The study, supported by Brigham and Women's Hospital, is published in the April 19 online edition of the journal Cancer.

Pace said conflicting recommendations from different organizations could have generated much confusion among both doctors and patients.

She added, "Another possibility would be that some providers and patients would simply be in disagreement [with the task force recommendation]."

In the 2009 recommendations, the task force said women 40 to 49 should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor, then decide whether to get screened. The task force took into account the lower incidence of breast cancer in younger women, as well as the downsides of screening, such as false positives, in which cancer is suspected but not found. False positives can lead to unnecessary testing, expense and emotional strain, experts say.

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