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Breast screening recommendations — finalized?

mammogramThe simmering national debate over how often and at what age women should get mammograms has come to a full boil once again.

This week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmed its 2009 guidelines that said women in their 40s with an average risk of breast cancer should discuss mammography with their clinicians and make individual decisions about whether to have the screening.

The panel members said their final recommendation is that women 50 and older only get the screening every other year.

This has provoked an outcry from some medical associations and cancer-awareness advocates who fear the advice would lead some women to delay having mammograms and put them at greater risk of death. A task force editorial explains:

In 2015, contentious discussions about breast cancer screening and prevention continued, with physicians, advocates, lawmakers, and scientists all lending their voices to the debate.

Many of these stakeholders focused on the need for women to be able to make more informed health care choices about when to start screening without having to worry about the cost of an insurance copayment.

Douglas Owens, MD, director of the Center for Health Policy and the Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, is a member of the task force.

The task force determined that while screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 may reduce the risk for breast cancer death, the number of deaths averted is smaller than that in older women and the number of false-positive results and unnecessary biopsies is larger.

The balance of benefits and harms is likely to improve as women move from their early to late 40s, the task force said.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2015, an estimated 232,000 women were diagnosed with the disease and 40,000 women died.

Previously: A new way of reaching women who need mammograms, Education reduces anxiety about mammography and Screening could slash number of breast cancer cases
Photo by Getty iStock

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