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Living Beyond Breast Cancer Statement on New Mammography Guidelines

November 18, 2009

Written By Yarissa Reyes

On November 16, 2009, The United States Preventive Services Task Force announced that it is changing its guidelines for mammography and no longer recommends routine screening for women between the ages of 40 and 49 who are at average risk for developing breast cancer. Until a better tool for early detection is found, Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) maintains its position that current screening recommendations should remain.

Although LBBC acknowledges the limitations of mammography, we stand by the National Cancer Institute’s recommendation that each woman needs to consider the individual benefits and risks and discuss them with her healthcare provider before making a decision about when to start screening mammography and how often to get one.

The proposed new guidelines recommend starting regular screening mammograms at age 50 and continuing every other year instead of every year, as recommended in current guidelines. The new guidelines also recommend against breast self-examination. These new guidelines are based on research that suggests false-positive test results, overdiagnosis and unnecessary earlier treatment outweigh the benefits of routine screening for women with average risk of developing breast cancer.

It is important to emphasize that the new guidelines are for women considered at "average" risk of developing breast cancer. Women who have had breast cancer and those with a family history or other factors (a positive BRCA gene mutation, for example) are considered to be at a "higher" risk of developing breast cancer and are likely to receive a recommendation for more frequent mammography screening or beginning screening at an earlier age than the average risk woman.

"Although mammography is not a perfect test, yearly screening mammography has been repeatedly shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer in all age groups," said LBBC Medical Advisory Board member Debra Somers Copit, MD, director of breast imaging at Albert Einstein Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of radiology, Jefferson Medical College.

We know this issue raises concerns, especially for young women. Regardless of your age or history of breast cancer, if you have unusual changes in your breasts, you should consult a healthcare provider and discuss whether or not a mammogram or other testing is necessary.

For more information about mammography and other forms of breast cancer screening, please visit our event archive page.

What are your thoughts on the new guidelines? Leave a comment on our blog.