New advice: scale back on breast cancer screening

    A federal task force has issued new guidelines for mammography and self breast exams. They go against the advice women have heard for years, which was to begin annual mammograms at age 40. Locally, some radiologists are saying: Let’s stick with the old approach.

    A federal task force has issued new guidelines for mammography and self breast exams. They go against the advice women have heard for years, which was to begin annual mammograms at age 40. Locally, some radiologists are saying: Let’s stick with the old approach.
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristiewells/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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    The US Preventive Services Task Force finds that some screening protocols don’t outweigh the cost, anxiety, and unnecessary medical care that go along with them. The tax force recommends that women at low risk of cancer start bi-annual mammograms at age 50.

    Diana Petitti is vice chair of the task force.

    Petitti:
    Very little benefit is lost from waiting to be screened first in the 50s and that the harms of screening women in their 40s are common. That is, that there are a lot of false positive and all the attendant anxiety that comes from having a false positive test.

    Some radiologists in the region are not so willing to scale back on screening. Emily Conant is chief of breast imaging at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

    Conant:
    We know that screening has an impact. It decreases breast cancer deaths. I think if you look at it from an individual woman’s stand point, is we would all like to be the one who if we do have to get cancer we’re diagnosed early where we have the greatest options.

    Kathy Evers is the director of mammography at Fox Chase Cancer Center. She and Conant will continue to urge women to get mammograms every year at age 40.

    Evers: I think there’s been a lot of discussion over the years about mammography, about the plusses and minuses of mammography. But I think what we need to keep in mind is mammography is the only test that has been demonstrated to decrease mortality from breast cancer.

    The task force says it is not anti-screening, but in favor of more discussion about screening’s potential harms.

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