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From 40 to 45: New Mammogram Guidelines

The American Cancer Society has eased its mammography guidelines. Credit: Rhoda Baer/Flickr
The American Cancer Society has eased its mammography guidelines. Credit: Rhoda Baer/Flickr
October 21, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - When to begin breast cancer screenings has been debated over the years by health experts, and the American Cancer Society is updating its guidelines. For a woman at average risk for breast cancer, the ACS changed the age for a first mammogram from 40 to 45. It also is recommending that once a woman turns 55, mammograms can be done every other year.

Dr. Robert Goulet, a clinical professor of surgery at Marian University, said the ACS now is emphasizing the importance of understanding how risk changes with age.

"It's extraordinarily important that women recognize that despite these changes, nobody is abandoning mammography," he said. "It is the best that we have to offer. There is no question that mammography saves lives."

Meanwhile, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that mammograms be offered every year beginning at age 40, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force supports mammograms every year starting at age 50 for women at average risk.

According to the ACS, the changes come after full consideration of all the evidence examining the benefits and harms.

Goulet said self-breast exams or those done by a medical provider no longer are recommended.

"There's a lot of false positives in concerns about findings on breast examinations that don't really amount to much," he said. "So the patient suffers the trauma of going through additional testing, going through unnecessary biopsies, and also the psychological stress."

Goulet said there's never been an age criteria for determining if mammography should continue, and some literature suggests it is not necessary after age 70. He added, however, that it now is recommended that the screenings continue if the patient is in good health and has a life expectancy that exceeds 10 years.

"If you had an 80-year-old who plays golf every day and has perhaps some arthritis and maybe high blood pressure, her life expectancy would be another nine or 10 years," he said, "in which case we would recommend continuing mammography."

The American Cancer Society noted that women at high risk should have earlier, more regular screenings. Goulet added that, above all, women should speak with their health provider to understand their own risk and plan of action.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN