The vast majority of surgeons continue to recommend that women 40 years old or older with an average risk for breast cancer get annual screenings for the disease. This conflicts with a newly released draft statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and its 2009 recommendations that most women be screened every two years beginning at 50 years old and continuing through age 74.
A team of researchers studying the effectiveness of policy recommendations on practicing surgeons found that 88 percent of breast surgeons and 82 percent of general surgeons continue to recommend annual mammography for women with an average risk of developing breast cancer. An even greater percentage–93 percent–reported that they began or would begin annual screenings for themselves at age 40.
This aligns with American Cancer Society recommendations that most women begin annual screening at age 40 and continue past age 75, barring serious health problems.
“We found that the majority of surveyed breast surgeons advocate and personally follow the screening mammography recommendations of the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the Society of Breast Imaging, instead of those of the USPSTF,” said coauthor Vilert Loving, director of breast imaging at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.
According to the USPSTF guidelines:
The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.
Study coauthors Jiyon Lee (NYU Cancer Institute) and Elaine Tanaka (VA San Diego Healthcare System and UC San Diego School of Medicine) added, “As we anticipate the USPSTF’s impending guidelines this year, the public should know that the physicians who diagnose and treat women with breast cancer still believe in annual mammography starting at age 40 for average-risk women.”
Results were presented last week at the American Roentgen Ray Society conference in Toronto.
Women with dense breast tissue should consider additional screening such as ultrasound or MRI, according to Nancy Cappello, Ph.D., founder of AreYouDense.org, an advocacy and educational organization working to help women learn about breast density and breast cancer risks. The group has helped to pass breast density inform legislation in 22 states and have introduced or are working on bills in a dozen more.