The American Cancer Society announced today their new guidelines for breast cancer screenings:

  • Woman should begin screening at age 45 instead of 40.
  • Women ages 55 and older should be screened every other year, but those who want to have them annually can do so.
  • Women 45- to 54-years-old should be screened annually.
  • Women should continue to get screened if they are in good health and have a life expectancy of more than 10 years.
  • Self-breast exams or exams from a medical provider are no longer recommended.

The previous guidelines, set nearly two decades ago, recommended women begin mammogram testing at age 40. However, the ACS recently determined that screening at a younger age can carry risks, including possible false positives and misdiagnosis. The ACS recommends women 55 and older to get screened bi-annually because breast cancer in post-menopausal women tend to develop slower.

“Since we last wrote a breast cancer screening guideline, there have been the publication of quite a number of new studies that inform us about the benefits and drawbacks of screening with mammography,” said Richard C. Wender, MD, Chief Cancer Control Officer for the American Cancer Society. “That committee then considered all of this evidence over a period of months, did the very difficult job of balancing the benefits and harms, and that’s what led to the change in the guidelines that we’re publishing now.”

According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, mammogram screenings correctly diagnose breast cancer for around 84 percent of women over the age of 55. However, studies have shown that women who start mammograms at age 40 are more likely to have false-positive results that lead to more testing. "The chance that you're going to find a cancer and save a life is actually very small," Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, told CNN. False positives can lead to more tests that can induce pain, anxiety and other side effects for an illness that doesn’t exist. Brawley adds that false positives could potentially turn a woman away from future mammogram screening.

The news does come with some opposition. The organization Breastcancer.org still recommends getting screened at age 40. “Cancers in younger women are known to be generally more aggressive and faster growing,” said Emily Conant, MD, chief of breast imaging at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and member of the Breastcancer.org Professional Advisory Board, in a release on the organization’s website. Conant adds that screening techniques need to be improved to help correctly find cancerous tumors and create fewer false positives.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommends that women begin screening at age 50 on bi-annual basis.

Ultimately, deciding on when to begin screening is an individual decision. Speak to your doctor and make sure you share your family’s medical history to determine if you could be at a higher risk for breast cancer.

What are your thoughts on the American Cancer Society's new guidelines? Do you agree with their rationale?  

 

Sources:

  1. American Cancer Society
  2. University of California, San Francisco
  3. The Journal of the American Medical Association
  4. CNN: New breast cancer guidelines: screen later, less often
  5. Breastcancer.org
  6. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force