Women Told Having Fewer Mammograms Will Prevent Breast Cancer

doctor checking mammogramIt's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, right? So everyone's talking about things we can do to prevent the disease that affects nearly a quarter-million women every YEAR. But today, the American Cancer Society came up with a surprising recommendation: Women should have FEWER mammograms, starting later than previously advised.

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Yup. The ACS announced new guidelines for breast cancer screening in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Previously, the group had suggested women start mammograms at the age of 40, then repeat the (incredibly uncomfortable) test every year. But today, in what seems like a stunning change, the group basically said, "Um, you know what. Never mind."

ACS's new recommendations: Women who have an average risk of breast cancer don't need a mammogram until the age of 45. It's advised that they then have one every year until they turn 54. At that point, if they're still healthy, they can then switch to being screened every OTHER year.

Another surprising guideline change has to do with clinical breast exams. You know how your OB/GYN checks your breasts for lumps when you come in for your annual? The ACS no longer recommends THAT either.

We know.

What the --?

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Apparently, the dramatic shift comes from research that shows mammography has serious drawbacks -- like giving women false positive tests. Which results in additional (and unnecessary) testing, not to mention a boatload of stress.

We can't even imagine what that's like, hearing you have breast cancer. Waiting weeks for more tests to confirm what type. Then getting a "Whoops, we made a mistake" call.

But is less screening for breast cancer a good idea?

Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, a board-certified gynecologist and author of the New York Times bestselling books The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet, says yes. "While it might seem like it's less care, it's actually less harm," she explains. "Mammograms don't save lives until after age 50. Before age 50, it's too much radiation and too many false positives."

Dr. Gottfried points out that these guidelines aren't actually new, either. They're on par with the 2009 guidelines set up by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

"The exception," she adds, "is high-risk women, who benefit from MRIs and targeted screening."

Not everyone is as convinced.

"I do not totally agree with the new recommendations by the ACS," says Dr. Michael W. Hailey, MD, a board-certified surgical oncologist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who specializes in cancer and diseases of the breast. "We have long known that screening mammography leads to improved survival in women aged 40-49. To leave out those women under 45 would cause cancers to be found at a later time."

And THAT, says Dr. Hailey, can lead to more advanced cancers at the time of diagnosis, plus longer and more aggressive treatments.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing lots of women in their 30s develop breast cancer," Dr. Hailey notes. "Due to digital and 3-D mammogram (along with MRI), more and more cancers in younger women are being discovered in very treatable stages. These cancers tend to be more aggressive, and the earlier they're found, the easier they can be to treat."

So what can you (or should you) do to stave off breast cancer?

Dr. Gottfried recommends taking some common-sense measures. "Eat a pound of vegetables each day, less red meat, and drink less alcohol -- three servings or fewer per week," she advises. "Buffer stress ... [and] find the exercise you love to stay lean."

Understanding your breasts is key, according to Dr. Hailey. Check for changes on a monthly basis.

"Every single month, we have patients who notice a change on their own exam and [we] confirm a cancer. This is not a rare occurrence," he says. "[As] someone who treats this disease every day, I still believe that a woman should be as proactive as possible in trying to find a change in their breasts."

 

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