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Regular breast cancer screenings are a potentially life-saving measure that doctors recommend women take, although the recommended starting age and frequency are still topics of debate. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine examined how physicians give their patients recommendations when there is a variety of conflicting guidelines.
“Different recommendation guidelines for mammography screening can be confusing not only to patients but also to ordering physicians,” Dr. Mitva Patel, a breast radiologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in response to the findings.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists‘ guidelines support starting early, suggesting that all women begin yearly screenings at age 40. Twenty-six percent of doctors reported trusting this guideline. Another 23.8% of doctors reported trusting the American Cancer Society, which recommends that all women begin yearly screenings at 45 and switch to biennial screenings after 55. Women over 40 should consider their own risk and decide whether they feel screenings are necessary before 55, according to its guidelines. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force‘s guidelines suggest that women make personalized decisions based on their own risk after 40 and until their late 40s. It recommends that all women go for regular biennial screenings between 50 and 74. Of the doctors surveyed, 22.9% reported trusting the USPSTF’s guidelines.
Although the guidelines are different, 81% of the doctors surveyed said that they recommend screenings to patients in the 40-44 age range. That jumps to 88% for women between 45 and 50. Despite the majority of physicians recommending early screening, the JAMA Internal Medicine study points out that the USPSTF is publicly funded and supports its guidelines with the most evidence.
Regardless of the general guidelines, it’s important to speak with a doctor about any concerns and discuss the pros and cons before deciding when to begin screenings.