Determining when to start breast cancer screening and how often to be screened, continues to be a source of confusion for women. On one hand, the findings of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPST) released this January state, “For women who are at average risk for breast cancer, most of the benefit of mammography results from biennial (every other year) screening during ages 50 to 74 years,” a departure from the American Cancer Society’s (ACA) recommendations. The ACA guidelines for women of average risk state, “Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so, and women 45 – 50 should have mammograms every year, with women older than 55 switching to biennial screenings.”
To help sort out the inconsistencies of these two approaches, Well-Being spoke to Dr. Phillip Ley, FACS, Jackson surgical oncologist.
“The USPST guidelines are based on population studies that evaluate survival rates of breast cancer patients by when they were initially screened,” Dr. Ley explains. “Their findings show that before the age of 50 there is not significant evidence of improved survival rates for women of average risk who start breast cancer screening at age 40. Of course that is not to say that there are not significant numbers of breast cancer cases in women in their 40s, but statistically, there is a higher survival rate because the majority of these cancers are stage 0. However, there are also women of that age that present with aggressive cancers that are far more developed.”
“For now, women still have the choice to have screening mammograms starting at 40 (and have them covered by their insurance). Women should discuss their risks and options with their physicians,” Dr. Ley adds. “With the current USPST guidelines in place, there could soon come a time when insurance companies will discontinue covering mammograms for women in the younger age group.”
One method for determining a woman’s risk factors for developing breast cancer is the BREVAGen test, a new scientifically validated test for assessing the risk of breast cancer. According to Dr. Ley, that is one tool that a woman and her doctor can use to help determine when she should begin screening for breast cancer.