Researchers challenge mammogram guidelines

November 27, 2012

Judith Ruiz-Branch

New studies are recommending that women get breast exams more often. Current guidelines advise women 50 to 74 get a mammogram once every two years.

But researchers at a Chicago medical conference this week pointed to new studies that show this may lead to missed diagnoses and a decline in screening.

In one study, researchers found nearly 20 percent of all cancers detected were among women ages 40-49.

Elizabeth Arleo, professor of radiology at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, said many patients are confused about how often they should be getting screened.

"Women should have an annual mammogram starting at 40, that’s the best thing for their health."
- Elizabeth Arleo, professor of radiology at Presbyterian Hospital in New York

“That’s part of the reason why we undertook the study because we want the bottom line to be that women should have an annual mammogram starting at 40,” Arleo said. “That’s the best thing for their health.”

The controversial recommendations were passed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009.

David C. Levin is the professor and chairman emeritus of the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

He said after these guidelines were implemented, there was a clear drop in how often women were getting mammograms.

“We’re not able to tell from the data whether this significant drop in utilization was a result of women deciding to wait another year to have their mammogram, or women over the age of 74 not having the exam,” Levin said. “But, clearly, the new USPSTF guidelines have had an effect.”

The new studies were discussed at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.