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

by Kim Conte on November 17, 2009 at 7:15 AM

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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Filed Under: breasts, cancer, general health, illness, in the news, medical tests

Comments

32
  • Lokis...
    --

    LokisMama

    November 17, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    " In other words, there is no evidence that screening women in their 40s cuts the risk of dying from breast cancer"

    Oh my god, what a load of crap.  So say you get breast cancer when you're 42.  They want you to wait til your 50 to get a mammogram?  In my mind, getting  the yearly mammogram is in the same boat with getting a yearly pap smear.  The earlier you detect cancer or similar problems, the faster you can treat it and THAT is what raises your chance of survival.  


  • table...
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    table4six

    November 17, 2009 at 9:53 AM

    I am so very shocked by this news.  Early detection save lives!!!!  I don't care what they say, I will be doing my self exams!  When I turn 40 I will be getting a yearly mammogram. 


  • Darl...
    -- Nonmember comment from

    Darl Ann Rector

    November 17, 2009 at 10:32 AM
    My cancer did not show up on mammograms so I am a great believer in self exam.
  • Cafe Kim
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    Cafe Kim

    November 17, 2009 at 10:33 AM

    Full disclosure, table4six: I'm shocked, too!

    I'm also left not knowing quite what to do in terms of trying to catch it early, especially if self-exams don't work.

    I'm worried that MORE confusion surrounding detection of breast cancer is dangerous for women.


  • Cafe...
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    Cafe MicheleZ

    November 17, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    I think this is horrible news. As you all have been saying, early detection is key. And what's up with them saying false readings made them move it back? Back 10 years!?!?!

    I had a mammogram at 36 because my doctors felt with my family history, they wanted to test early. I had to have a doctor's prescription for it to be covered by insurance. So if you wanted to get one, if this passes, before 50, you'd need a precript. I don't like it one bit.


  • scien...
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    science_spot

    November 17, 2009 at 10:48 AM

    The value of breast exams by doctors is unknown. And breast self-exams are of no value.

    I don't agree with this.  This is crap.  We all know of at least one person who found a lump, went to the doc and it turns out it was cancer.  That may be only one person, but that doesn't make it of NO VALUE.  Especially considering self-exams are FREE, the health insurance does not need to APPROVE you to do it, nor do you have to BEG them to pay for it.   Women should still be encouraged to get to know their bodies and perform self-exams, not only of their breasts, but also of their menstrual fluid and skin.

    Stating that the value of breast exams at a doc is unkown is one thing - because they cannot quantitate the effectiveness, so it is unknown.  But to claim NO VALUE???  Preposterous!!

    I agree with the mammogram guidelines change because they do lead to alot of false alarms.


  • Peajewel
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    Peajewel

    November 17, 2009 at 11:09 AM

    I think this is a bunch of crap!  If my sister would have waited until she was 50 she would probably either not be with us or having a huge battle with cancer right now!  She had her first mammogram in her very early 40's and breast cancer was found and it was found very early on and she is now a survivor!  I cannot believe they are saying this!  OH and her breast cancer doctor had me start having exams in my 30's since my sister had cancer. 


  • Ragge...
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    RaggedyAnne

    November 17, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    I can't believe what,I heard in the news about mammograms.


  • Emmy_...
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    Emmy_Dollface

    November 17, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    I had a discussion on this on my facebook.  There are 4 generations of breast cancer in my moms family, all in a row, including her. Here is what I had to say on there:

     

    This is bull crap and the worst breast cancer advice I've ever heard....it
    says no mammograms at 40, and stop doing self exams. I wonder how many
    women they are trying to kill with this. I'll keep doing what I'm doing
    and start my mammograms at 25. Eat that, government task force.

     

    My mom found her lump by self exam. And guess what, she was barely over 40! Insurance pays for it (most of the time) if you qualify (40+ or younger with a history) so why not take advantage if it? I'm starting at 25, insurance or not, just for the peace of mind that would give me after 4 generations of BC in my family. I self exam ...  religiously, so I will know when something is different and I urge people to do the same. Early detection saves lives and BC is showing up younger and younger. Just 2 months ago, and 11 year old girl was diagnosed with it!


  • Agent...
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    AgentBrez

    November 17, 2009 at 5:15 PM

    MicheleZ, you touch on an  important issue with this new "ruling." will insurance continue to pay for mammograms for people in their 40s if they aren't deemed necessary? will women have to get RX's if they want one and it isnt considered routine? i find it eery that they are playing with people's lives like they are just a number. i would rather have a false positive, an unnecessary biopsy, all the things they are worrying about, than not get diagnosed until it is too late. my maternal grandmother died of breast cancer [i never met her, my mom was 10] so i dont know if i considered high risk and need them even earlier. ill be 27 in Jan, i figured i wouldnt have to start thinking about it until my 30s at the earliest.


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