Breast cancer screening – biennial mammography starting at age 50 is optimal

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New and comprehensive analyses from six independent research teams examining breast cancer screening intervals have produced a unanimous finding — that mammography screening every two years for average risk women ages 50 to 74 offers a favorable balance of benefits to harm.

The findings, presented to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force as part of its evidence review for breast cancer screening recommendations, are published in the Jan. 12 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

The new, more inclusive wording of the guidelines is more in line with new recommendations from other cancer groups, such as the American Cancer Society. The society released new breast cancer screening guidelines in October pushing back the starting age for screening mammograms to 45 from 40, and recommending that younger women should have the choice to start screening as early as 40.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, said he is happy with the Task Force’s conclusions.

According to the task force, screening 10,000 women in their 50s will result in eight fewer deaths, versus four fewer deaths for women who start screening at age 40.

Possible harms of breast cancer screening include unnecessary treatment for potentially harmless forms of breast cancer, incorrect results known as false positives and unnecessary additional testing.

As long as women understand the balance between benefits and harms, they can make a reasonable decision to start screening anytime in their 40s, researchers said.

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