Doctors Changing Rules on Mammograms for Younger Women

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - The guidelines regarding long-standing recommendations for mammograms are once again being challenged.

The American College of Physicians is questioning whether women should routinely undergo mammograms in their 40's, saying the risks may outweigh the benefits.

Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard looks at the new recommendation and who it affects.

The recommendation is not to not get a mammogram.

Instead, it urges women in their 40's to consult with their doctors about whether to have the breast x-rays.

And the new recommendation is eliciting mixed reactions from breast cancer doctors and researchers.

During her 13 years at the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, Clinical Breast Radiologist Doctor Caryn Wunderlich says she's seen the lives of hundreds of women saved through yearly mammograms.

"And it's estimated up to one-third of all breast cancers seen in this country actually start in women who are in their 40's," says Dr. Wunderlich.

But today, the American College of Physicians issued new guidelines urging women in their 40's to consult with their doctors about whether to have a mammogram, rather than routinely undergoing one.

The group says the risk of breast exams may outweigh the benefits.

"Women are always hearing about being exposed to radiation, but there's not been any documentation that there's a significant increase in breast cancer due to more women having mammograms," Dr. Wunderlich.

Mammograms commonly detect an early form of breast cancer known as Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, which may never become life-threatening.

Nevertheless, a diagnosis can lead to lumpectomies, mastectomies, radiation and chemotherapy.

The college of physicians wants women and their doctors to ask if the benefit outweighs the harms.

Doctor Wunderlich says there's not enough evidence to answer that question for every woman in her 40's. "Right now, we really don't have any answers as to what women don't need to be screened, since most women who develop breast cancer in this country do not have a family history."

As many as half of all women who undergo annual mammograms throughout their 40's have false positives, which lead to repeated exams and biopsies.

These new guidelines come less than a week after the American Cancer Society issued guidelines recommending women at greatest risk of breast cancer also undergo annual MRI exams.

Breast cancer strikes more than 212,000 US women each year and kills more than 40,000, making it the second most common cancer in women.

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