The Age of Confusion: Mammograms and Mixed Messages

This is a quiz:   How old should you be when you start getting Mammograms?

You fail if you said an age. At least, that’s where the world’s largest breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen®, comes down on this most confusing and most important guideline.

Judy Salerno Headshot

Dr. Judy Salerno, President and CEO of Susan G. Komen 

Last week, when the latest announcement from a committee called the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended raising the age for the start of routine mammograms from 40 to 50 for women of average risk, it hit the national news quickly and seemed to fade away just as quickly.

Why the lack of attention? Well, that’s what happens when there’s conflicting announcements and a lack of consensus. It’s hard to report on something that no one can agree is actually true.

Last October, the American Cancer Society offered a different age range. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Society of Surgical Oncologists, the American College of Radiology and others recommend starting at age 40.

What does it all add up to? Confusion. Recognizing this, some of the groups mentioned above – along with Komen –  are attending a private meeting at the end of this month to try to produce a single set of guidelines. Is that possible? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Komen President and CEO Dr. Judy Salerno, head of the largest breast cancer organization in the country, said in a statement that Komen is concerned with the long-range implications of the latest guideline change, and how it could affect a major part of Komen’s mission:  Equal, quality care for ALL. That’s because the USPSTF is the body that insurance companies look to when deciding what preventive services are covered.

Salerno said in a statement that women and their doctors should be the final decision-makers when it comes to breast cancer screening, and that screening tests, if recommended by a healthcare provider, should be covered by insurers regardless of a woman’s age.

“A lack of coverage would be most harshly felt in high-risk and underserved populations,” she said, “African-American women, for example, are often diagnosed at younger ages with aggressive forms of breast cancer – and die of breast cancer at rates over 40 percent higher than white women. Screening at younger ages is a critical tool for these women.”

Salerno encouraged increased investment in research to develop better screening tools. Komen has funded more than $33 million to find more precise early detection methods such as blood and tissue tests. “Until those are available, mammograms are the most widely available and cost effective test that we have, and women and their healthcare providers should have access to them,” she said.

We’ll keep you posted on how this all might change (or not). Meanwhile, if you have any questions, we urge you to call your doctor! And, for lots of great information on understanding your risk, go to http://www.komen.org.



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