New Guidelines Recommend Fewer Mammograms For Women

The American Cancer Society now suggests that women with an average risk of breast cancer wait until age 45 to get annual mammograms, which is five years later than previously advised, according to The New York Times.

Women who don’t have a history of breast cancer in their families or previous radiation treatments of their chests are at average risk.

Mammograms can lead to overdiagnosis, which is when the mammogram catches small, nonthreatening tumors. Doctors are unable to tell if the tumor is harmless, so a woman could undergo unnecessary radiation and surgery, which can be emotionally distressing and expensive.

But it’s better safe than sorry, right?

Maybe not.

“Because mammography is less effective at distinguishing cancers from normal breast tissue in premenopausal women, mammograms miss cancers in some younger women and raise a false alarm in others,” Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman and Alicia Bell wrote on Bioethics Forum in 2009.

The realization of the limitations of mammograms for healthy women has led to this change in policy.

Mammograms give false positives that call for more testing and biopsies. The number of false positives from mammograms is estimated to be anywhere from under 10 percent to around 50 percent.

The New York Times reports that an estimated 232,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and upward of 40,000 will die from it.

There is disagreement in professional organizations about the mammogram guidelines due to differing perspectives. The U.S. Preventative Task Force advises women to wait until age 50 to start getting mammograms, while the National Comprehensive Cancer Network says to start getting them at 40. 

As always, the best option is the discuss your medical history and health with your doctor to discover the right mammogram strategy for you.