Mammograms At 45: What You Need To Know About The American Cancer Society’s Change

Mammograms at 45-years-old are the new guideline set by the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society announced Tuesday that they have raised the age in which women with an average risk for getting breast cancer should get mammograms done every year when they are 45-years-old. Women who are 55-years-old can then switch to having mammograms done every other year, however, they should still be able to have yearly mammograms.

At 55-years-old, the ACS discovered that tumors grow much more slowly after menopause. It is because of the slow tumor growth that the ACS says it is fine to have mammograms every other year.

Previously, the American Cancer Society had the age for mammograms set at 40. Dr. Richard Wender, the chief of cancer control at the American Cancer Society, says, “In 2003 nobody talked about the balance of benefits and harms which is now a really a standard for guidelines.”

Mammograms At 45: What You Need To Know About The American Cancer Society's Change

In 2009, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force claimed that they did not have enough evidence to agree with the American Cancer Society’s age recommendation. The USPSTF said that women do not need to have mammograms until they are 50-years-old and at that point they should get mammograms every two years. With the age guideline, 10 years apart between the ACS and the USPSTF, health care providers, and women, were confused on which guideline they should follow. Dr. Wender comments on the confusion.

“What I can confidently state is that the simple [2003] guideline fueled confusion. It caused women and clinicians to choose, ‘Well, I either follow this guideline or I follow that guideline and I don’t understand why they are so different.’ We know that we have an obligation to make sure that clinicians are educated and the public has the right education and guidance, including more helpful decision making tools.”

The American Cancer Society discovered that breast cancer is very rare in women who are 40-years-old. The patients that were getting mammograms at that age sometimes got results that were false positives. The false positives sometimes forced the care provider to do a biopsy to find out if the patient does have breast cancer. The false positive mammogram results was a big factor in why the ACS raised the age to 45-years-old. According to the ACS, women who are 40-years-old can still decide to get mammograms done as long as they realize the risks involved and that false positives are more likely than breast cancer. Dr. Wender explains why having mammograms done at 40 is not necessary.

“It’s not that mammograms are ineffective in younger women, but at age 40, breast cancer is uncommon and false alarms are more likely. Therefore, you’d have to do a lot more mammograms to prevent one death.”

The age increase for mammograms was not the only change that the ACS made on Tuesday. The ACS said that they will no longer suggest that women get routine breast exams by their health care providers. The ACS found that these routine exams showed no evidence that any lives are saved by it.

Even though the guidelines changed, some people have decided to not pay attention to the ACS for their mammograms and breast exams. Rev. Jennifer Munroe-Nathans, a pastor in Millis, Massachusetts, was told by her doctor that she should get yearly breast exams due to the fact that her mother had breast cancer. Her doctor told her this when she was around 40-years-old. Rev. Munroe-Nathans commented to the Chicago Sun Times about why she is sticking to the old guideline.

“For my own peace of mind I intend to continue yearly mammograms.. I’ve seen the impact of breast cancer — perhaps that makes me a little more hyper-vigilant.”

Mammograms At 45: What You Need To Know About The American Cancer Society's Change

Do you think the new guideline for mammograms at 45-years-old is a good idea?

[Image via Shutterstock/Cristina Muraca]