Federal mammogram guidelines have changed, but a new study shows that most doctors aren’t taking it seriously. Results from a national survey conducted by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that four out of five doctors are still recommending yearly mammograms for women in their early 40s.
Back in 2009, The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF), an organization that helps set standards for preventive care, made a controversial decision regarding mammograms. The task force changed the guidelines for breast cancer screening from regular mammograms for women in their 40s to recommending biennial mammograms only for women aged 50 or older.
The USPSTF suggests that women between the ages of 40 and 49 should make their own decision about whether to get a mammogram, but should also consider risks of false positives, exposure to radiation and over-diagnosis. Other organizations followed in USPSTF’s footsteps, including the American Cancer Society, which changed their guidelines to recommend annual screenings starting at age 45 and biennial screenings after age 55.
The shift in mammography recommendations comes from evidence that younger women are at high risk for false positive results on their mammogram. False positives are known to cause anxiety and can also lead to undetected cancer later on, because women are more likely to skip future mammograms after experiencing a false positive.
As of now, there is no perfect answer to when women should start getting mammograms, and opinions will likely change as more research is done.
Dr. Archana Radhakrishnan, the lead author of the paper said, “Our results serve as a benchmark for breast cancer screening recommendations as guidelines continue to evolve.”
Jane Snyder is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer and photojournalist based out of Athens, Georgia.