Although the American Cancer Society (ACS) confirms that mammography saves lives, the organization issued new breast cancer screening guidelines on Oct. 20 that recommend women at average risk for breast cancer start getting annual mammograms at age 45. The previous recommendation was to start at age 40, and I will continue to recommend that women get yearly screening mammograms starting at age 40.
Evidence shows that the most lives are saved when screening starts at age 40. Although breast cancer is a little less common in women aged 40 to 44, this group receives the same life-saving benefit from screening mammography that older women do. As a radiologist specializing in breast cancer detection and diagnosis, I see this first-hand. My colleagues in the American College of Radiology agree and are also continuing to recommend that yearly screenings begin at age 40.
The new ACS guidelines note that the “harms” associated with screening may outweigh the benefits in women age 40-44. It is vital that women compare the magnitude and implication of the harms versus benefits associated with screening mammography. The harms they identify are about getting false positive readings from mammograms that can result in women being called back in for more imaging or an ultrasound. About 10% of women are recalled for these additional tests and the vast majority are cleared at that point. About 1 – 2% of patients who are recalled receive a needle biopsy using local anesthetic.
The benefits include saving lives and finding cancers smaller and earlier so that less aggressive treatment is required. I believe most women will agree that the drawbacks pale in comparison to the benefits of screening, and will choose to proceed with yearly screening. In fact, the ACS declares that yearly screening is beneficial and something that the majority of women would want, as long as they are healthy and have a 10 year or longer life expectancy. It is vital that we preserve a woman’s access to this life-saving technology so that she may choose to screen.
About Dr. Newell
Mary S. Newell, MD, began practicing with Emory Healthcare in 2001 where she is a board certified radiologist specializing in breast cancer imaging and diagnosis. Dr. Newell has interests in emerging imaging technologies, teaching, and healthcare policy.
Dr. Newell chairs the American Board of Radiology Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Breast Committee and the American College of Radiology Joint Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards and Appropriateness Committee on Criteria. She is Head of Curriculum Assessment for the Society of Breast Imaging and Special Consulting Editor for CME for the American Journal of Roentgenology. She also serves as the treasurer for the Georgia Radiologicial Society, is a councilor to the American college of radiology representing the state of Georgia, and serves on numerous committees institutionally and nationally.
Dr. Newell earned her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School. She then completed her residency in diagnostic radiology and fellowship in body imaging at the St. Francis Hospital in Illinois. Dr. Newell’s research focuses on discovery and evaluation of new imaging modalities for future use in breast cancer screening and detection.