New guidelines for breast cancer screening

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New guidelines by the American Cancer Society, which addresses breast cancer screening among average-risk women, recommends annual mammography for women aged 45 to 54 years and biennial mammography for women 55 years and older. The previous recommendation was for yearly mammograms starting at age 40. The report also recommends that women skip manual breast checks by doctors altogether.

The change made by the ACS is the result of reviews of medical literature. It found screenings were not effective in preventing breast cancer.

"The most important message of all is that a mammogram is the most effective thing that a woman can do to reduce her chance of dying from breast cancer," said Dr. Richard Wender, the society's cancer control chief. "It's not that mammograms are ineffective in younger women," he said, but at age 40, breast cancer is uncommon and false alarms are more likely.

The society's updated guidelines say switching to every other year at age 55 makes sense because tumors in women after menopause tend to grow more slowly. Also, older women's breasts are usually less dense so cancer is more visible on mammograms, said Dr. Kevin Oeffinger, chairman of the society's breast cancer guideline panel and director of the cancer survivorship center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In a statement, the director of the Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program said she was disappointed by ACS's new guidelines.

"So many women of all ages report that their breast cancer was detected during a routine annual mammogram, when the cancer was most treatable. Tell all the women, and there are many, diagnosed before age 45 that they did not need a mammogram," Hillary Rutter, L.C.S.W., said in a statement to "Until we can accurately determine which cancers will lay dormant and which cancers will aggressively spread without treatment, we need a method to detect early stage breast cancer, and although far from perfect, mammography is what we have."

The new guidelines were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

With the Associated Press