This week, the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for breast cancer screening. Among the changes, the new recommendations say women with an average breast cancer risk should begin having yearly mammograms at age 45, and may change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55.
Tara M. Breslin, MD, clinical director of the breast care program at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, weighs in on what these new guidelines mean for women.
What is your recommendation for mammography and why?
A. Women should review these guidelines with their primary care provider to determine how the guidelines may or may not affect their individual screening program. These guidelines only address women with an average risk for breast cancer – not those who are high risk due to certain medical conditions or have a family history. I see this as an opportunity for women to discuss their breast cancer risk and screening schedule with their doctors by using the most updated information.
What about the frequency of self-exams?
A. It’s important for women to be aware of their bodies and monitor themselves for changes. If you notice a change in your breast, you should bring it to the attention of your doctor.
What about breast density? What is the value of mammography for women with dense breasts? A. Mammography continues to be the best screening tool we have for early detection of breast cancer and does detect cancer in women with dense breasts. Dense breasts are very common and women with dense breasts may benefit from using advanced mammographic screening techniques such as tomosynthesis, which is more commonly known as 3D mammography.
The new guidelines are meant for women at average risk of breast cancer. What about women with a family history or women who carry a gene that predisposes them to breast cancer?
A. Remember, the goal of a breast cancer screening program is to detect abnormalities in populations of women without symptoms. Patients with symptoms, pre-existing problems identified on mammography and those women with high risk fall into a different group, and these guidelines do not necessarily apply to them. Determining the optimal screening modality and schedule requires an ongoing discussion between a woman and her doctor.
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