The American Cancer Society took a stance against campaigns that suggested women wait until age 50 to begin routine mammograms, as opposed to 40 years old, six years ago. The society asserted that delaying mammograms would lead to a higher chance of death among women.
USA Today reports that based on changing views on cancer screenings, The American Cancer Society is recommending a higher age for routine mammograms.
New guidelines were released Tuesday, advising women of average breast cancer risk should start getting annual mammograms, starting at age 45. This is five years later than their previous recommendation. The society assured that the recommendation comes after carefully analyzing the cancer risk of younger women, which is marginally lower than that of older women.
However, after women turn 55, they can opt to only receive mammograms every other year, as the risk decreases post-menopause.
Another big change to the guidelines is that doctors are no longer required to perform breast exams during checkups, as the routine exams have shown little evidence for saving lives.
These changes are big for the American Cancer Society, which is the United States’ largest cancer charity and screening advocate. Since the 1990’s, the society has urged women to get screened at as early as age 35, so doctors have a baseline image to compare during routine exams.
The changes illustrate the growing awareness that mammograms can cause both harm and good. Occasionally, mammograms cause “overdiagnosis,” during which slow-growing, malignant growths are discovered, and since it is not yet possible to distinguish those from dangerous cancers, doctors treat all of them. This leads to often unnecessary surgery, radiation, and other unnecessary treatments.
The current recommendations are only for women with average risk of breast cancer. Women who feel strongly about cancer screenings are still encouraged to get regular mammograms. The society is working on putting together recommendations for women with high breast cancer risk.