There are currently three different groups with recommendations on the timing of mammograms. And the three have entirely different recommendations. Confused? Let’s start off by looking at the differences.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Age 40, yearly. Earlier if you have a strong family history or other preexisting conditions.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF): Age 50, every two years.
American Cancer Society: Age 45, yearly until age 55 and then every other year, unless you are in a higher risk category. *Note, only 25% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a known risk factor.
The overwhelming evidence supports the yearly mammogram beginning at age 40 model. It has proven to save lives, evidenced by the number of women who are living longer, healthier, lives because their cancer was found early. Even the American Cancer Society agrees with the life saving benefits of the existing plan.
Research does show that the risk of getting breast cancer and dying from it goes up at age 45. Your risk still exits at 40, it is just slightly lower. At 50, your risk continues to climb, but the cancers tend to be slower to grow. Of course, there are also very aggressive cancers found in women who are 40 and who are over 50.
The only plan that covers you in both age groups is the one endorsed by both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Radiologists.
So why did the American Cancer Society change their recommendations? And why did they add that doctors don’t have to do a physical exam at all?
The term “negative effects” is used through out the report, but the only details reported are the emotional ones associated with false positive tests. The ACS believes that women are harmed by the anxiety of breast exams and the potential of false positives that lead to further testing. We are not downplaying the fact that anxiety and stress do result from receiving additional testing, all the while worrying that you may have breast cancer. Our doctors have held our patients hands through the process countless times over the years. We know it is a difficult time.
However, we believe that finding cancer early and giving our patients the best chance to survive and live a full and productive life is worth it. If you talk to a woman whose aggressive cancer was found in her first mammogram at age 40, you will find someone who is angry about these recommendations and concerned for their fellow women.
Right now, you and your doctor have the right to decide what is the best plan of action. And right now, the Affordable Care Act covers the current recommendations and pays for a yearly mammogram for every woman over 40. If recommendations come from the USPSTF to congress, there is a chance that as many as 17 million women will lose their mammogram coverage. We will continue to monitor the situation and let you know if there comes a time to call your Senator or Congressman. The doctors at The Woman's Clinic in Jackson, Mississippi are committed to giving you the best healthcare at all stages of life.
Want more information? Here is an excellent article written by a Harvard radiologist.