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ACP: Average-risk women under 50 can postpone mammogram

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Guidance provides clarity, simplicity amid chaos

The ACP guidance statements provide “clarity and simplicity amidst the chaos of diverging guidelines,” Joann G. Elmore, MD, and Christoph I. Lee, MD, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the guideline (Ann Intern Med. 2019. doi: 10.7326/M19-0726).

The four statements included in the guidance represent the convergence of differing recommendations, but they also highlight points for physicians to consider in shared decision making with patients, the editorial authors wrote.

Lacking, however, is advice on how clinicians should go about stopping screening in certain patients, they noted.

“We need reliable ways to determine life expectancy given comorbid conditions, as well as methods to appropriately manage the discussion about stopping screening. ... The cessation of routine screening is a highly uncomfortable situation for which we as clinicians currently have little guidance and few tools. At this crossroads of confusion, we need a clear path toward informed, tailored, risk-based screening for breast cancer,” they wrote adding that future guidance statements should “move beyond emphasizing variation across guidelines and instead provide more advice on how to implement high-value screening and deimplement low-value screening.”

Dr. Elmore is with the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Lee is with the University of Washington, Seattle.



Clinicians should offer biennial mammography to screen for breast cancer in asymptomatic average-risk women aged 50-74 years and should abandon clinical breast examinations (CBE) for screening in such women of any age, according to a new guideline from the American College of Physicians.

mammogram Catherine Yeulet/Thinkstock

Further, clinicians should discuss whether to screen with mammography in average-risk women aged 40-49 years and consider potential harms and benefits, as well as patient preferences. Providers should discontinue screening average-risk women at age 75 years and women with a life expectancy of 10 years or less, Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, of the ACP and colleagues wrote on behalf of the ACP Clinical Guidelines Committee.

The ACP guidance also addresses the varying recommendations from other organizations on the age at which to start and stop screening and on screening intervals, noting that “areas of disagreement include screening in women aged 40 to 49 years, screening in women aged 75 years or older, and recommended screening intervals,” and stresses the importance of patient input.

“Women should be informed participants in personalized decisions about breast cancer screening,” the authors wrote, adding that those under age 50 years without a clear preference for screening should not be screened.

However, the evidence shows that most average-risk women with no symptoms will benefit from mammography every other year beginning at age 50 years, they said.

The statement, published online April 8 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was derived from a review of seven existing English-language breast cancer screening guidelines and the evidence cited in those guidelines. It’s intended to be a resource for all clinicians.

It differs from the 2017 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines in that ACOG recommends CBE and does not address screening in those with a life expectancy of less than 10 years. It also differs from the 2016 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines, which make no recommendation on CBE and also do not address screening in those with a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

Other guidelines, such as those from the American College of Radiology, American Cancer Society (ACS), the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, recommend CBE, and the World Health Organization guidelines recommend CBE in low resource settings.

“Although CBE continues to be used as part of the examination of symptomatic women, data are sparse on screening asymptomatic women using CBE alone or combined with mammography,” the ACP guideline authors wrote. “The ACS recommends against CBE in average-risk women of any age because of the lack of demonstrated benefit and the potential for false-positive results.”

The guidance, which does not apply to patients with prior abnormal screening results or those at higher breast cancer risk, also includes an evidence-driven “talking points with patients” section based on frequently asked questions.

An important goal of the ACP Clinical Guidelines Committee in developing the guidance is to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which affects about 20% of women diagnosed over a 10-year period.

The committee reviewed all national guidelines published in English between January 1, 2013, and November 15, 2017, in the National Guideline Clearinghouse or Guidelines International Network library, and it also selected other guidelines commonly used in clinical practice. The committee evaluated the quality of each by using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation II (AGREE II) instrument.

Alex Krist, MD, the USPSTF vice-chairperson, offered support for the “shift toward shared decision making that is emerging” and added it’s “part of a larger movement toward empowering people with information not only about the potential benefits but also the potential harms of screening tests.”

“In its 2016 recommendation, the Task Force found that the value of mammography increases with age, with women ages 50-74 benefiting most from screening. For women in their 40s, the Task Force also found that mammography screening every two years can be effective,” he told this publication. “We recommend that the decision to start screening should be an individual one, taking into account a woman’s health history, preferences, and how she values the different potential benefits and harms.”

Dr. Krist further noted that the USPSTF, ACP, and many others “have all affirmed that mammography is an important tool to reduce breast cancer mortality and that the benefits of mammography increase with age.”

Likewise, Robert Smith, PhD, vice president of cancer screening for the ACS, noted that the ACP guidance generally aligns with ACS and USPSTF guidelines because all “support informed decision making starting at age 40, and screening every two years starting at age 50 (USPSTF) or 55 (ACS).”

“The fact that all guidelines are not totally in sync is not unexpected. ... The most important thing to recognize is that all of these guidelines stress that regular mammography plays an important role in breast cancer early detection, and women should be aware of its benefits and limitations, and also remain vigilant and report any breast changes,” he said.

The guidance authors reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Qaseem A et al., Ann Intern Med. 2019. doi: 10.7326/M18-2147.

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