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What you should know about the latest change in mammography screening guidelines

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The word from an expert ObGyn
“By changing its guidance to begin screening at age 45 instead of 40, and in recommending biennial rather than annual screens in women 55 years of age and older, the updated ACS guidance will reduce harms (overdiagnosis and unnecessary additional imaging and biopsies) and moves closer to USPSTF guidance,” says Andrew M. Kaunitz, MD. He is University of Florida Research Foundation Professor and Associate Chairman, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, at the University of Florida College of Medicine–Jacksonville. He also serves on the OBG Management Board of Editors.

“As one editorialist points out, the ACS recommendation that women begin screening at age 45 years is based on observational comparisons of screened and unscreened cohorts—a type of analysis which the USPSTF does not consider due to concerns regarding bias,” notes Dr. Kaunitz.5

“The ACS recommendation for annual screening in women aged 45 to 54 is largely based on the findings of a report showing that, for premenopausal (but not postmenopausal) women, tumor stage was higher and size larger for screen-detected lesions among women undergoing biennial screens."6

As for the recommendation against screening CBE, Dr. Kaunitz considers that “a dramatic change from prior guidance. It is based on the absence of data finding benefits with CBE (alone or with screening mammography). Furthermore, the updated ACS guidance does not change its 2003 guidance, which does not support routine performance of or instruction regarding SBE.”

“These updated ACS guidelines should result in more women starting screening mammograms later in life, and they endorse biennial screening for many women, meaning that patients following ACS guidance will have fewer lifetime screens than with earlier recommendations,” says Dr. Kaunitz.

“Another plus is that performing fewer breast examinations during well-woman visits will allow us more time to assess family history and other risk factors for breast cancer, and to discuss screening recommendations.”

The bottom line
What is one to make of the many viewpoints on screening? For now, it probably is best to adhere to either the new ACS guidelines or current ACOG guidelines (TABLE 2), says OBG Management Editor in Chief Robert L. Barbieri, MD. He is chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Kate Macy Ladd Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School.

TABLE 2 What are ACOG’s current recommendations?

  • Screening mammography every 1–2 years for women aged 40 to 49 years
  • Screening mammography every year for women aged 50 years or older
  • Breast self-awareness has the potential to detect palpable breast cancer and can be recommended
  • Clinical breast examination every year for women aged 19 or older

ACOG recommends screening mammography every year for women starting at age 40. ACOG also states that “breast self-awareness has the potential to detect palpable breast cancer and can be recommended”; it also recommends CBE every year for women aged 19 or older.

These recommendations may change early next year, after ACOG convenes a consensus conference on the subject. The aim: “To develop a consistent set of uniform guidelines for breast cancer screening that can be implemented nationwide. Major organizations and providers of women’s health care, including ACS, will gather to evaluate and interpret the data in greater detail.”2

Share your thoughts! Send your Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. Please include your name and the city and state in which you practice.


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