Living with cancer blog

Mammogram recommendations: What do changes mean for you?

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. November 20, 2009

You've likely heard about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force this week revising its screening recommendations for breast cancer based upon an analysis of various mammography screening schedules. Experts suggest screening every two years for average risk women ages 50 to 74 achieves most of the benefits of annual screening, but with less harm. And although there was a decrease in deaths for women ages 40 to 49, screening resulted in additional mammograms and false positives, therefore isn't being recommended. These findings were published in the Nov. 17, 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., director of Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and medical editor at, shares what these guidelines mean for Mayo Clinic and its patients:

Like any guidelines, the recent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's revised mammography screening guidelines for breast cancer are general suggestions for care for broad groups of people. Mayo Clinic physicians will evaluate the new evidence and ongoing studies regarding screening mammography, but for now we'll continue to offer annual screening mammography to women ages 40 and older, which align most closely with the American Cancer Society recommendations.

In the meantime, please keep all scheduled mammogram appointments. If you have concerns, contact your healthcare team.

I would be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to discuss the importance of early detection of cancer. Just this week I cared for a young woman in her 30's diagnosed with breast cancer after she found a lump on her breast. Many young women have shared similar stories with me about how they found a breast lump on their breast self-examination, and with further evaluation were diagnosed with breast cancer. So, I still recommend that my patients be proactive and be familiar with their breasts. If there are changes they should bring this to the attention of their healthcare provider promptly.

I've also counseled many women in their 40's whose diagnosis of invasive breast cancer was the result of an abnormality found on a screening mammogram. The cancer was diagnosed at an early stage before the lump could even be felt on the clinical breast examination.

Breast cancer is an anxiety provoking diagnosis and can affect women of all ages. We've made significant strides in the past decade in decreasing death from breast cancer due to the combination of early detection and improved treatments in both young and older women.

Please take a moment to share how you've been proactive in seeking early detection of cancer.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

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Nov. 20, 2009