If a woman seeks out advice on mammograms from various health organizations, she’ll get a variety of recommendations.
However, if she asks her doctor, she’s more than likely to be told to begin annual screenings for breast cancer at the age of 40.
That’s what a survey of physicians from across the nation reveals.
It was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
More than 80 percent of doctors who participated said they feel women should start getting regular mammograms when they turn 40.
“The results provide an important benchmark as guidelines continue evolving and underscore the need to delineate barriers and facilitators to implementing guidelines in clinical practical,” the study authors wrote.
The new survey is the latest salvo in the argument over how early women should start getting mammograms.
In 2015, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines, saying women between the ages of 40 and 44 should consult with their doctors about the screenings. From ages 45 to 54, the organization recommends annual mammograms and then exams every two years for women 55 and up.
In 2016, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force revised its guidelines. The group now recommends that women under age 50 consult with their doctor. They say women ages 50 to 74 should get screenings every two years.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women over 40 get an annual mammogram.
These guidelines are for women with an average risk of breast cancer. Most organizations don’t recommend mammograms for most women after age 75.
In the survey released today, researchers sent out queries to 1,665 physicians. They got responses from 871 of them. About 44 percent were family medicine or general practitioners. Almost 30 percent worked in internal medicine and another 26 percent were gynecologists.
Overall, 81 percent of those responding said they recommended mammograms for women ages 40 to 44. About 88 percent advise women to get the screenings from ages 45 to 49. About 67 percent still recommend them for women 75 years and up.
The researchers said the gynecologists were more likely to recommend annual screenings than those in the internal medicine and general practice fields.
Why the disagreement?
It may puzzle people why these medical organizations would have differing opinions on mammograms.
Dr. Mitva Patel, a breast radiologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, says she agrees with annual mammograms beginning at age 40.
The reason is simple.
“I think the most important aspect is how we can save lives,” Patel told Healthline.
She said some organizations may take into account the legitimate issues of cost, over-diagnosis, and the anxiety of getting a mammogram or a follow-up test.
But she looks at just what will help detect breast cancer in a woman at an early age. She notes that 1 in 6 breast cancer cases occur in women ages 40 to 49.
She adds the level of radiation in mammograms is minimal and certainly worth the chance breast cancer can be caught at an early stage.
Patel is 42 years old, and says she has had a mammogram each of the past three years.
“It’s what I tell my mom to do and it’s what I do,” she said.