Source: North Jersey.com
The American Cancer Society now says women should start mammograms later in life and get fewer of them, a stance that puts the trusted group closer to an influential government task force’s advice. The group also dropped a recommendation for routine physical breast exams by doctors, saying there’s no evidence that these save lives. And it recommends that women continue getting screened as long as they are in good health and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years. The old guidelines did not include an age limit.
They recommend that most women should begin annual screening for breast cancer at age 45 instead of 40, and switch to every other year at 55. The task force advises screening every other year starting at age 50.
The society’s updated guidelines say switching to every other year at age 55 makes sense because tumors in women after menopause tend to grow more slowly. Also, older women’s breasts are usually less dense so cancer is more visible on mammograms, said Dr. Kevin Oeffinger, chairman of the society’s breast cancer guideline panel and director of the cancer survivorship center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose guidelines have historically influenced Medicare coverage, made waves in 2009 when it recommended mammograms every other year starting at age 50, to age 74. In draft recommendations released earlier this year, the group said mammograms for women in their 40s should be an individual decision based on preferences and health history, and that more research is needed to determine potential benefits or harms for scans for women aged 75 and older.
The guidelines were developed by experts who reviewed dozens of studies including research published since 1997 — the year the cancer group recommended yearly mammograms starting at age 40, and since 2003, when it stopped recommending monthly breast self-exams.
Most health plans are required to cover screening mammograms free of charge as part of preventive care mandated by the Affordable Care Act, and many insurers cover the screenings starting at age 40.
“The most important message of all is that a mammogram is the most effective thing that a woman can do to reduce her chance of dying from breast cancer,” said Dr. Richard Wender, the cancer society’s cancer control chief.