If you’ve seen the news headlines in the last several weeks, you know that mammogram recommendations have been a hot topic.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a government group that includes a variety of health experts, is recommending changes to current mammogram guidelines for low-risk women. So what does this mean for you?
Low-risk women and mammograms
If you’re a woman who is considered low risk for breast cancer, your recommendations for mammograms may change under USPSTF guidelines. At this time, it is still a draft recommendation and hasn’t been finalized. Here are the key differences in the proposed changes:
- Routine mammograms can begin as late as age 50. (Previous recommendation was 40.)
- Mammograms can be done every two years instead of yearly.
- Breast self-exams (BSEs) aren’t shown to be helpful in preventing breast cancer-related deaths.
Note that these guideline changes are only for women considered to be low risk. And the USPSTF strongly states that the guidelines are just that — guidelines, and not rules. The decision of when and how often to get screened should be left up to the individual patient and her physician, they say.
If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or have tested positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, you may be considered high risk and should continue to get regular mammograms and other tests as recommended by your healthcare provider. The USPSTF guidelines do not change the recommendations for high-risk women. Most high-risk women should be screened more frequently and may need to undergo other tests, such as an MRI, beginning as early as age 30.
Why the change?
The USPSTF says that screening low-risk women too often can lead to unnecessary biopsies and cancer scares that turn out to be benign. Based on data and statistics they evaluated, the group says the guidelines may help minimize the harm of treating a woman who, in fact, doesn’t have cancer at all.
The changes are specifically geared toward women ages 50-74. This age range, the USPSTF says, is where screening is the most beneficial. If you are younger than 50 or older than 74, talk with your physician about when you should get your mammogram.
They also state that there is not enough evidence to support regular BSEs in healthy, low-risk women as a way to prevent breast cancer-related death. Mammograms are the most reliable way to find cancer, so BSEs should not be considered a substitute. But, women who notice any lump or change in their breast should call their physician immediately.
You can still get a mammogram
Mammograms are a preventive service that is covered by major insurance companies. The USPSTF maintains that these draft recommendations will not affect insurance coverage. Women of all ages should see their gynecologist regularly and discuss their breast health needs.
It’s worth noting that the American Cancer Society’s guidelines are different from these proposed changes. They say a low-risk woman should begin yearly mammograms at age 45, or earlier if needed. Women over age 55 can get mammograms every other year, or continue yearly.
Understandably, these proposed guidelines have been a source of confusion for many women. It’s another great reason why you should see your healthcare provider regularly, and discuss any screening tests you may need — including mammograms. Empower and inform yourself about your health, and you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.
CarePoint Health Gynecology
With the help of a skilled gynecologist at CarePoint Health, you can make educated decisions about your health to be at your best at any stage of life. For more information about the comprehensive women’s services we provide, please contact us.
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