Clearing up confusion over new mammogram guidelines

By Courtney Lane - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Women have always heard how important it is to start getting mammograms at the age of 40. But, a new government task force is throwing a major curveball, saying women don't need to start until the age of 50.

"When screening beginning at 40-49, the benefits are smaller and the false positive rates are higher than when screening at older ages," said Dr. Diana Petitti with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force.

Women are also encouraged to get mammograms annually after 40. But, these new guidelines say once every two years after 50 is enough.

Anne Flynn is a cancer survivor and mother of two. She fears that if women follow these new government guidelines, more mothers, daughters, and sisters will die.

"That 10 years can make a huge difference," said Flynn. "Its important that when they are making these recommendations that they realize the effect it has on families."

Survivor Nancy Gaul agrees.

"I am shocked by these guidelines, because if I had not had a mammogram at age 40, I wouldn't be here today," said Gaul.

Another highly-criticized change? The government group says self breast exams are useless and should not be taught, and that women over 74 should not have the breast x-rays at all.

All of this is a major reversal from what we've been told for years. The government task force is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention, but none of them are oncologists.

The recommendations have gained national attention and stirred up mixed reactions from people in the medical community.

Some doctors fear an increase in breast cancer deaths will follow these guidelines. They say the recommendations are misguided and 17-percent of breast cancer deaths happen to women in their 40s. Other doctors support the recommendations and argue that screening mammographies produce false positives and those generates excess biopsies and excess worries.

"These things do have a cost," said Dr. Joseph Martins, an oncologist. "They have a cost to society in terms of the cost of all the excess testing and they have a cost to the individual in terms of the risk of perhaps unnecessary procedures."

Every doctor we talked with Tuesday did stress the importance of self breast exams. They said it is the most effective way young women detect breast cancer.

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