While agreeing with the American Cancer Society that mammograms aren’t perfect, according to an CNN interview some advocates for women criticized the group’s new guidelines. First, they said the society looked mostly at studies of film mammography, which in the United States has almost been entirely replaced by digital mammography. cancer screening is an excellent resource for this.
Digital mammograms generate clearer images and do a better job of finding cancer and have a lower false positive rate. “It’s like standard versus HD TV,” said Dr. Therese Bevers, the chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s guidelines panel for breast cancer screening and diagnosis, and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Second, critics said the cancer society looked only at whether screening saved a woman’s life, and not at whether screening caught a cancer early, so the woman could avoid the most drastic treatments, such as chemotherapy or mastectomy.
“The American Cancer Society made the value judgment that screening is only worth it if improves survival,” said Dr. Marisa Weiss, a breast cancer survivor and president of Breastcancer.org. “There’s an arrogance to that. Let women decide what’s meaningful to them.”
Insurance companies will make the final decision
While the new guidelines state that women over age 55 can choose to get a mammogram every other year, since breast cancers in post-menopausal women tend to develop more slowly to a great extent it will be insurance companies that decide at what age women get mammograms. In 2009, they typically continued to pay for mammograms starting at age 40 even though the government’s task for force recommended mammograms starting at age 50.
But it’s not clear what they’ll do now that the American Cancer Society has also raised the age for mammograms. “(Insurance) plans will certainly take these updated recommendations into account when evaluating their coverage policies,” Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote to CNN.
Talk to your doctor
For now the best way to know when to begin screening for mammograms and how often to get screenings is to talk to your medical provider.
• Begin talking to your medical provider about breast cancer screening by age 40.
• Share your family history and personal medical history to determine whether you are at average risk or higher risk for breast cancer.
• Understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of breast cancer screening. Mammograms will find most, but not all breast cancers.