Task Force Releases New Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued new breast cancer screening recommendations for women who don’t have symptoms of breast cancer and are not at high risk of the disease. The USPSTF recommends that most women get screening mammograms every other year from ages 50 to 74. This is unchanged from the last time the USPSTF updated its recommendations, which was in 2009. The recommendation also says women can choose to begin getting mammograms every other year in their 40s.

The task force is an independent panel of experts authorized by Congress to make recommendations about specific preventive services for patients with no signs or symptoms. It released a draft of these recommendations in April, 2015. The final recommendations were published Monday, January 11, in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The new USPSTF recommendation says that “the decision to start screening mammography in women prior to age 50 years should be an individual one,” made after women weigh the potential benefit of screening against the potential harms. The benefit is potentially finding breast cancer earlier. The harms cited by USPSTF include the risk of finding a suspicious area that turns out not to be cancer (false-positives) and potentially finding and treating a breast cancer that would never have caused a problem (overdiagnosis and overtreatment).

“The number of breast cancer deaths averted increases with age; women aged 40 to 49 years benefit the least and women aged 60 to 69 years benefit the most,” according to the report.  The new USPSTF recommendation also states that women between the ages of 40 and 49 who have a first-degree relative – a parent, child, or sibling – with breast cancer “may potentially benefit more than average-risk women in this age group from beginning screening mammography before age 50 years.”

In an official statement, the American Cancer Society said that the “USPSTF now places greater emphasis on the importance of making a personal, informed decision about when to start screening.  The new language adds greater clarity regarding the higher risk of developing breast cancer in the late 40’s compared to the early 40’s and endorses a woman starting to screen any time in that decade if she believes screening is right for her.”

The new USPSTF guidelines say there isn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against breast cancer screening in women 75 and older.

American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Screening Guideline

The American Cancer Society also recently released a new guideline for breast cancer screening in women at average risk of breast cancer. The guideline, which was published in October 2015, says women ages 40-44 can choose to have an annual mammogram, and recommends that all women begin having yearly mammograms at age 45 and continue to do so through age 54. Beginning at age 55, women can change to having mammograms every other year or continue having them every year.

“While differences exist between recommendations from the USPSTF, the ACS and other organizations, each confirms the importance and value of regular screening mammography,” the Society wrote in its statement.

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Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Screening for Breast Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Published early online May 21 in Annals of Internal Medicine. First author: Albert L. Siu, MD, MSPH, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.

Breast Cancer Screening for Women at Average Risk 2015 Guideline Update From the American Cancer Society. Published October 20, 2015 in Journal of the American Medical Association. First author Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

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