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Healthline Connects
Healthline Connects

Mammograms In The Headlines

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines this week recommending that women should begin regular breast cancer screening – including getting a mammogram every two years – starting at age 50. For years, it has been widely recommended that women have mammograms done biannually starting at age 40; the new guidelines represent a significant departure from past medical advice.

The new guidelines are meant to limit the growing frequency of unnecessary extra tests and surgeries being performed because of unclear screening results. According to the Task Force, the “additional benefit gained by starting screening at age 40 years rather than at age 50 years is small and that moderate harms from screening remain at any age.” The Task Force did urge that women at high risk for breast cancer should continue being screened for the disease early on in their lives. Nevertheless, for the rest of the population, the Task Force believes that starting screening at age 40 doesn’t save enough lives¬ – 1 in every 1,940 – to make up for the extra tests and treatments, the accompanying anxiety and emotional distress, and the related financial burdens.

It didn’t talk long for other health experts around the country to respond to the Task Force’s new guidelines with guarded skepticism. A popular rebuttal: One in every 1,940 doesn’t seem like that much, but what if you’re the one? Influential groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists quickly announced that they are sticking with the earlier guidelines.

In response to the confusion generated by the Task Force’s recommendations, Human and Health Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement advising women to “Keep doing what you have been doing for years – talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions, and make the decision that is right for you.” According to Sebelius, the Task Force’s findings are not indicative of the HHS’s opinions and will not set federal policies. Furthermore, early mammograms should continue to be covered by health insurance policies, said Sebelius.

Breast cancer is the one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States; more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and about 40,000 die annually from breast cancer-related complications.

Learn more about the disease by visiting our breast cancer learning center:

Learn when and how to test for breast cancer:
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