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Confused About the New Mammography Screening Guidelines?

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Mammography Tech

Breast cancer screening guidelines had been simple for the twenty five years prior to 2016: mammograms were recommended for every woman, every year, from age 40 until her death at any age.

This straightforward approach was turned upside-down when the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) issued its final breast cancer screening recommendation.

What are the Changes?

The USPSTF suggests that women with an average risk of breast cancer start having mammograms every other year starting at age 50 and stopping at age 75. This recommendation differs from that of many national health organizations such as the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American College of Radiology (ACR), and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who generally recommend that women receive annual mammograms starting at 40-45 years.

The USPSTF also called into question the benefits of breast self-exam in detecting cancer, prompting the ACS to recommend against regular clinical breast exams or breast self-exams as part of a routine breast cancer screening schedule.

Why the Change in the Guidelines?

The USPSTF based its recommendation on a study that found that women following the standard guidelines were "over-diagnosed" and subject to "over-treatment," resulting in false-positive results and unnecessary biopsies.

These new, conflicting guidelines caught women and their doctors by surprise—and has made it confusing for women to understand recommendations for breast cancer screening.

How Should Women Respond to the Changing Guidelines?

If the changing recommendations have you puzzled, you are not alone. To clear up the confusion, we spoke to Michele Kopach, MD. She is an expert in breast cancer screening and is a passionate advocate for the empowerment of women in their healthcare choices.

Dr. Kopach emphasizes that "the goal of screening is to reduce deaths due to breast cancer by detecting cancer early when treatment is more effective and less harmful." For this reason, she prefers to follow the guidelines set forth by the American College of Radiology (ACR), which recommends that women with an average risk start getting annual mammograms at age 40.

According to Dr. Kopach, women who are at high risk for breast cancer due family history or inherited genetic mutations such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes should speak to their doctor about starting screening mammograms earlier than age 40. Screening techniques, such as MRI or breast ultrasound, may be used in these cases.

Dr. Kopach believes that self-exam is a good adjunct to mammography, but is not perfect. She acknowledges that "the majority of irregularities that a woman might feel during self-exam are benign." Adding that, "by the time a woman can detect cancer through self-exam, it is often advanced."

Regular mammograms remain the gold standard for detecting breast cancer in its early stages, according to Dr. Kopach. Since people are unique individuals, the best solution to the confusion is to talk to your personal doctor who knows your history best.

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Free Breast Cancer Screening

Doylestown Health is offering free breast cancer screening on November 2nd for those who qualify. Call the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Organization at 215.564.3700 for more information.

About Doylestown Health's Breast Center

Doylestown Health's Breast Center offers comprehensive breast cancer and well-breast care, close to home. From early detection through advanced screening options like 3D mammography, to complex surgical treatments including nipple-sparing mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, the experts at Doylestown Health are your resource for total breast health. As a member of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Network at Jefferson, Doylestown Health Cancer Institute oncology patients have access to innovative clinical trials, expert second opinions and the latest information in the field of cancer genetics.

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