ROCKVILLE, MD – Women between the ages 50 to 74 are strongly advised to have a mammogram at least every other year, according to the final recommendations The United States Preventive Services Task Force issued Tuesday, Jan. 12.

Women in their 40s could start having biennial mammograms, but doing this at that young age could lead them to potential downsides such as false positives. As for women with higher than average risk, including those who have a family history of breast cancer, the new guidelines do not apply for them whatsoever.

Women will need the doctor’s help to discuss whether their risk requires them to follow more aggressive schedules. Image:

The recommendations by USPSTF slightly differ from those given less than three months ago by the American Cancer Society, the other leading voice on breast cancer screening in the U.S. These guidelines include that women should begin biennial screening from 55 years onward. However, both organizations fall in line with European health officials’ recommendations that women between the ages 50 to 69 should have a mammogram every two years.

Nevertheless, these new guidelines will have no effect on insurance coverage for mammography, since last month President Barack Obama signed a law warranting full coverage of annual screenings in women 40 and older through 2017, regardless of their individual breast cancer risk.

To support this decision, Dr. Nancy C. Lee from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services remarked that a woman in their 40s will not have to pay out of her pocket if her doctor determines she needs a mammogram at that age.

Dr. Elisa Port, chief of breast surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, rejected the guidelines and said they were confusing. “The bottom line is that we have clear-cut data that shows death from breast cancer is reduced for women between the ages of 40 and 70 with yearly mammograms,” she told Huffington Post. “Why anyone would recommend mammograms every other year in women in the 50 and older age group is beyond me.”

Regarding the higher risk of complications as a consequence of a false-positive diagnosis, Port said the organizations were overreacting. She pointed out that in most cases only a few more pictures with the mammogram were required.

On the other hand, chair of the task force Dr. Albert Siu emphasized that annual screening lead to over-treatment that come as a result of over-diagnoses, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. He said women end up being treated for a cancer that would have not caused health complications without screening.

Siu added that all women have the right to understand the scientific facts about the potential benefits and downsides of breast cancer screening, which lets them have the control to decide with their doctor what the most appropriate choice is for. And, he remarked, it is a scientific fact that screening is most strongly recommended for women ages 50 to 74.

The differing recommendations might be very confusing, but Electra Paskett, a cancer control researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, commented the important thing was to let women know conversations with their doctors was key.

In order to know when a woman should start screening, Paskett said it was fundamental for her to discuss the matter with her doctor, taking into account factors like potential harms that can be caused by screening. She added that, regardless of the decision, women should first get sufficient information.

If doctors determine they should get tested, women should ask the reasons why he got to that conclusion, what the results may implicate and what the best test is for them.

Source: Huffington Post