The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has updated its screening mammography guidelines, and has reaffirmed that for women in their 40s who have an average risk of developing breast cancer, it depends on their personal preference as to whether or not they want to have a mammogram.

The USPSTF makes recommendations about the effectiveness of specific preventive care services for patients without related signs or symptoms. Its recommendations are based on scientific evidence derived from medical research.  

Released January 12, 2016, the USPTF sanctions:

  • Biennial (every two years) screening recommended for women aged 50 to 74.
  • Initiation of screening before age 50 should be individualized depending on patient preferences.
  • For women aged 75 and older, current evidence is insufficient to assess the benefits and harms of screening.

“GreenField Health is in agreement with this approach,” says Dr. Jill Miller, an internist at both the Eastside and Westside offices. One of the most notable aspects of this announcement is that for women in their 40s who have an average risk of breast cancer, personal preference should play a role in the decision.

“From a clinical perspective,” she adds, “there is potential benefit to screening for women in their 40s, but there is also significant risk of overtesting and false positives. We each need to consider the risks and benefits through our own lens, based on our personal experiences and our feelings about health and risk.  If a woman who is average risk prefers to wait until 50 to start mammogram screening, she should feel comfortable with this decision and know it is backed up by research.”

(For women who have significant breast cancer risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in a mother or sister at a young age, or being of Ashkenazi descent, the USPSTF recommends an individualized assessment to determine if more screening, testing, and treatment could be helpful.)

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It has been shown that mammography reduces the risk of death from breast cancer,” Carney says, “but it is far from a perfect test.”

For GreenField Health patients with questions, Carney recommends more discussion with your clinician. “The comprehensive health exam, or CHE as we call it, is the perfect venue for this topic, because you and your clinician can talk thoroughly about your risks, preferences and a plan of action.”