New Breast Cancer Advice: Skip Mammograms in 40s and Breast Self-Exams Altogether

breast exam

A government task force has some new advice regarding breast cancer that flies in the face of the guidelines most women have been instructed to follow by their doctors. Here's the gist of it:

  • Most women in their 40s should NOT routinely get mammograms. (This guideline is for the general population, not those women who are at high risk of breast cancer because of family history or gene mutations.)
  • Women 50 to 74 should get a mammogram every other year until they turn 75.
  • The value of breast exams by doctors is unknown. And breast self-exams are of no value.

These new guidelines conflict with the long-standing position of the American Cancer Society, which has been recommending annual mammograms beginning at 40. The guideline addressing breast self-exams is less contentious; medical groups including the cancer society have recently backed away from encouraging women to perform self-exams because there is little evidence showing such exams to be successful.

The reasoning behind this new advice is that screening too early "leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of survival." In other words, there is no evidence that screening women in their 40s cuts the risk of dying from breast cancer; moreover, the harms for women of early screening (unneeded biopsies, expense, and worry) outweigh the benefits.

I'm conflicted here: The numbers in the article make sense to me; at the same time I know lots of breast cancer survivors whose lives were saved because of early screening.

Are you comfortable waiting until you turn 50 to have a mammogram? What's your opinion on these new breast cancer guidelines?


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