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Latest Study Says Mammogram Schedules Should be Individualized

A new study recommends that women follow individual mammogram schedules based on five key factors rather than age-based schedules suggested by other groups. This different advice may make it even more complicated for women to understand when they should begin screening to detect breast cancer.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July, a study authored by Dr. John Schousboe, medical director of research at Park Nicollet Health Services in Minnesota and adjunct professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota, said the timing and frequency of mammograms should be customized for each woman to avoid problems like the risk of cancer misdiagnosis.

In addition to a woman's age, Dr. Schousboe's study states that breast density, history of breast biopsy, family history of breast cancer and the patient's beliefs on the potential risks and benefits of screening also should be considered when deciding on a mammogram schedule. This recommendation contrasts with those from the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which advise annual screenings at age 40 and screenings every two years before age 50, respectively.

For the study, Dr. Schousboe and his colleagues analyzed data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium and the National Cancer Institute, accounting for their five selected factors, to estimate how many additional mammograms would be needed to prevent one death from breast cancer in various circumstances. They concluded:

  • Women with above-average risk levels should be screened every other year from age 40 to 49.
  • Women with low risk levels should have mammograms every three to four years from ages 50 to 79.
  • Annual mammograms are not recommended for any women, no matter their ages or risk levels.

These latest recommendations are likely to again incite debate over when and how often women should undergo mammograms as doctors attempt to balance the risk of missing early detection with the harm caused to women by false-positive results. Because cancer misdiagnosis can cause significant harm, though, it is important to quickly and accurately diagnose breast cancer.

Source: Mammogram Schedule Should Be Customized, Study Finds

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