NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – New guidelines announced by the American Cancer Society say most women don’t need to start annual mammograms until age 45. For years, it suggested that 40 was the right age to begin the screening.
Now the debate is on which is the greater risk: suffering the anxiety of a false positive—or not catching breast cancer at the earliest possible stage?
Leslie Marsh has advanced breast cancer. She was diagnosed when she was 45.
She had her first mammogram in her early forties, and she missed one year because of Katrina.
“It was a 2-centimeter tumor in my right breast. But I’ll never forget the words when the nurse said, ‘Sweetie we have to switch you from routine to diagnostic.’”
Marsh calls the new guidelines crazy and says waiting until age 45 puts women at risk.
“Teenagers can get breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer. Why wait until you’re 45 to get a simple test?” she says.
The ACS says a committee weighed the pros and cons of mammograms and decided that the overall benefits are less when women begin them at age 40.
So what are cons of getting a mammogram? Breast cancer surgeon Eliana Soto says false positives are one issue.
“The waiting period between the biopsy and hearing about the benign pathology is anxiety-producing in a lot of women,” she says.
But even so, she’ll continue to recommend screening at age forty. Right now, she’s preparing to operate on a 41-year-old breast cancer patient and says she has a lot of patients between the ages of 30 and 50.
Marsh says urges decision-makers to keep anxiety in perspective.
“There is nothing worse than the anxiety that you get when you go to get scanned every three months to see if the cancer has spread further in your body — the anxiety over a mammogram is nothing.”
Dr. Valerie Williams, an OB/GYN at LSU, points out that the new ACS guidelines are an improvement over those given by another respected agency.
“The U.S. Preventive Task Force actually came out with recommendations recently as well that were starting at 50, so these are honestly a little bit closer to what I’m more comfortable with.”
Like Soto, Williams says she’s also sticking with the number 40 for her patients.
“For some women, they’re going to have increased anxiety with not having mammograms until the age of 45,” says Williams.
The recommendations also are new for women over age 55. The ACS suggests they only need to have a mammogram every other year, instead of annually.
The bottom line: these doctors agree it’s an individual decision each woman should discuss with her doctor.