American Cancer Society Suggests New Mammogram Guidelines

Mammograms save lives.

That's the message the American Cancer Society wants to drive home. New guidelines out Tuesday show when the average women get those mammograms is a judgment call.

The ACS still stands by yearly mammograms at 40, but has loosened the recommendation to say the average 40-year-old woman has the option to start mammograms.

The ACS now says All women should start yearly mammograms at 45.

Women 55 and older can have bi-annual mammograms and clinical breast exams are not necessary.

The findings are the result of a two year study done by the ACS Cancer Screening Guideline Development Group, of which James Michaelson is a member. He along with other researchers looked at data from all over the world, including at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"The recommendations also recognize that there's also benefit from slightly less intensive uses,” said Michaelson, a PhD with the Mass General Department of Pathology.

Like less anxiety and unnecessary procedures. Dr. Shana Birnbaum, a primary care physician at Mass General Hospital appreciates the flexibility.

“Different women are going to have different priorities. Some are going to care more about preventing breast cancer no matter what. Others are going to maybe have more anxiety about potential false positives tests, about callbacks about biopsies that are unnecessary,” said Dr. Birnbaum.

But Dr. Birnbaum does have concerns when it comes to the recommendation against clinical breast exams. The ACS says it's not proven to save lives, and a physician's time is better spent counseling the patient on mammography. "I think that my patients are going to have a very hard time if I say to them, you know you don't need your breast exam today. It's going to be very, very difficult shift for all of us." 

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