Sky Ridge Medical Center April 21, 2015

Local breast cancer experts say women should begin receiving mammograms at ago 40 and continue every year, contrary to newly released draft of national breast cancer screening guidelines.

The guidelines were released today for public comment by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an advisory group of 16 volunteer public health experts from fields such as behavioral health, pediatrics, and geriatrics. The USPSTF's guidelines advise women to begin receiving mammograms at age 50 and every other year thereafter until age 74. The guidelines do not fully support mammograms for women 40-49.

However, doctors who usually diagnose and treat women with breast cancer strongly feel these guidelines, if adopted nationally, would result in missed diagnoses among younger women and more advanced cancers at all ages. The American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the Society of Breast Imaging agree all women should begin annual screening mammograms at age 40 - and even earlier if they have a strong family history of breast cancer or other risk factors.

"When breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is greater than 95 percent," said Lora Barke, DO, a breast radiologist and medical director of the nationally renowned Invision Sally Jobe Breast Centers. "One in six breast cancers occur in women in their forties. Three out of four women diagnosed do not have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors."

Because health insurance companies often look to the USPSTF recommendations to decide which screening tests will cover, women under 50 may have to pay for routine mammograms out of their own pockets - or rely on breast exams. That prospect alarms younger breast cancer survivors who credit screening mammography with saving their lives.

"Don't have a false sense of security," said Myra Robinson, an Aurora resident whose Stage 1 cancer was diagnosed two years ago at age 44. "I feel strongly about early detection and being your own advocate."

A passionate advocate for annual screening beginning at age 40, Robinson is concerned that the new guidelines could deter women from getting yearly mammograms. "I would be singing another song if I hadn't gone for my mammogram when I did," she said.

Since mammography screening became widespread in 1990, breast cancer deaths have dropped more than 30 percent. "Those are real women and real lives saved, women who were able to remain with their friends and families," Barke said. "Simply put, mammography is the best tool we have to detect breast cancer. This 15-minute, low-radiation exam gives women peace of mind."

To comment on the proposed USPSTF guidelines, please visit: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Announcements/News/Item/public-comment-on-draft-recommendation-statement-screening-for-breast-cancer.

Learn more about mammography and breast cancer: http://www.mammographysaveslives.org/