Friday, October 23, 2015

Four Key Reasons the American Cancer Society's New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Aren't Up to Snuff

Earlier this week, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines about breast cancer screening for women. The ACS now recommends starting annual mammography at 45 instead of 40, and decreasing the screening to once every two years for women over 55. The organization also would have physicians forego clinical breast exams.

These recommendations are problematic for four key reasons:

  1. Among women who are at average risk of breast cancer, the biggest risk factor is age. Why, then, would you increase the age at which you begin screening for the disease? Indeed, the incidence of breast cancer increases among women in their 40s, accounting for one in six cases of the disease among women in this demographic.  Additionally, mammograms can be a tool for early detection, which studies have shown results in less invasive therapies, increased quality of life, increased years of life, better prognoses, and overall better outcomes.
  2. Although the ACS screening guidelines for women at high risk for cancer have not changed, the reality is that the vast majority of these women have no family history of breast cancer and as a result they are totally unaware that they are at increased risk. For this population especially, -- even if they don't know who they are -- annual screening beginning at age 40 is critically important
  3. Having so many different sets of screening guidelines from various cancer and medical organizations -- especially because they're not consistent with one another -- is confusing for both patients and their doctors. What's more, although none of the guidelines is binding, they can be used by insurance companies to restrict accessibility and coverage for mammography, erecting barriers where fewer existed before
  4. Clinical breast exams are quick, easy, and non-invasive, and there's no reason not to do them. In fact, for younger women and those in remote and rural parts of the country, they may be the only screening option readily available.
For these reasons and so many others it's important that women be strong advocates for their own health and avail themselves of resources and guidance to help them develop an individual breast cancer screening plan that works best for them.