Q & A with Marla Ahlgrimm | Mammography Screening Guidelines Updated

Marla AhlgrimmIn 2015, the American Cancer Society made the recommendation to delay initial breast cancer screening by five years in women with normal risks. Here, Marla Ahlgrimm answers common questions related to these new guidelines.

Q: How common is breast cancer?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Breast cancer is the second most dominant cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the United States, with approximately 230,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year.

Q: Forty has been the recommended age for initial breast cancer screening for the last 20 years. Why change it to age 45 now?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Since the last American Cancer Society breast screening update in 2003, scientists have uncovered evidence which led to the new recommendations. It is now believed that the risks of routine mammography outweigh its benefits in women who are ages 40 to 44. The new guidelines state that women aged 45 to 55 should undergo breast cancer screening annually; this is reduced to biennial screenings for those age 55 and older. Mammograms are no longer recommended for women of any age with a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

Q: When should a woman request her first clinical breast exam?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Clinical breast examination – one that is done in an office by a gynecologist or general practitioner – is no longer recommended for women of any age carrying average risks of breast cancer. However, the American Cancer Society still recommends that women continue to check their breasts at home once a month for lumps or other abnormalities. Self-breast exams are free, easy, and can help detect breast cancer in its early stages.

Q: Will clinical breast exams and/or mammograms continue to be available for women of any age?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Breast exams will still be available to women of any age via their primary care physician or gynecologist. And as always, anyone with concerns about breast health should consult with their healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.

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