The American College of Physicians has issued new screening guidelines for women at average risk of developing breast cancer.
Part of the new guidelines recommends an average-risk woman begin mammogram screenings every other year beginning at age 50.
The guidelines also suggest an average-risk woman, who does not have breast symptoms, should have a conversation with her doctor about screening benefits and risks beginning at age 40.
The new statement differs slightly from guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society, which still recommend average-risk women begin mammogram screenings at age 45 and continue them annually until age 54, and then every other year afterward.
Dr. Nidhi Sharma, of Cleveland Clinic, said it’s important for women to talk with their doctors about all of available guidelines in order to make a personalized and shared decision on when to start screening.
“In this day and age, when there are so many different guidelines, they can be confusing sometimes,” she said. “Making an informed decision is one of the most important things the patient can do for themselves, so they are screened appropriately, and the cancers are caught appropriately.”
The new guidelines are based on research indicating that mammograms performed every other year reduce the potential for false-positive test results, overdiagnosis, overtreatment and radiation exposure, among other factors.
But Sharma said the level of risk versus the level of benefit is different for every woman, so no guidelines are "one-size-fits-all."
She believes each woman should have a conversation with her doctor to develop a plan that’s right for her.
“Patients should be paying attention to self-breast exams, and going in for their annual primary care exams, and then making a shared decision with their physician on what’s right for them,” Sharma said. “Whether they should start screening at age 45, or at age 40, and what exact guidelines would suit that individual patient the best to make the best decision for their screening mammography.”
It’s important to note that these new guidelines do not apply to patients who have had prior abnormal screening results or who have a higher risk of breast cancer due to personal history or genetic factors.
The complete research results can be found in The Annals of Internal Medicine.