American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Reaffirms Komen Stance that Annual Mammography Should Begin at 40
DALLAS – July 20, 2011 – The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ new recommendation that women begin getting mammograms annually beginning at the age of 40 is a victory for women’s health that opens a door to early detection of breast cancer for millions, officials with Susan G. Komen for the Cure® said today.
“This recommendation reaffirms what we have been saying for many years – that women in their 40s should get mammograms because early detection saves lives,” said Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of the world’s largest breast cancer organization. Komen for the Cure has long recommended annual mammography beginning at age 40 for women of average risk for breast cancer.
“Women in their 40s who are screened are 15 percent less likely to die from breast cancer than their peers of the same age who aren’t screened,” Brinker said. “Early detection and early treatment are vital components for effective treatment of this disease.”
Questions about the impact of mammograms on mortality rates in this age group have been the subject of numerous studies, with confusion about the issue escalating in November 2009 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against annual mammography for women of average risk in their 40s. The USPSTF cited potential over-treatment, false positives and resulting anxiety, with no appreciable impact on mortality from the disease.
Because USPSTF guidelines are often used by healthcare providers as practice guidelines, and by third-party payers to determine whether a procedure or test will be covered, Komen opposed the Task Force recommendation and immediately began advocating to continue access to mammograms for women in their 40s who want them.
Nevertheless, confusion about the issue has kept women away, Brinker said, citing a recent survey showing as many as 50 percent of insured women who are eligible for mammograms aren’t getting them. “The College’s new recommendation should add some clarity, and weight, for its 50,000 doctors on the front lines of women’s health.”
Previously, The College had recommended mammography every two years in the 40-49 age group and annually starting at 50. In changing the guidelines today, it cited the incidence of breast cancer, the time it takes for breast cancer to grow, and the potential to reduce breast cancer deaths.
Like Komen, The College continues to also recommend annual clinical breast exams (CBE) for women ages 40 and older, and every one to three years for women ages 20–39. Additionally, Komen and The College encourage “breast self-awareness” (understanding the look and feel of one’s breasts and reporting changes to a healthcare provider) for women ages 20 and older.
Komen’s screening recommendations are available on komen.org.
“We can’t say it often enough: early detection leads to early treatment that saves women’s lives,” Brinker said. “Five-year survival rates for cancers detected early are 98 percent in the United States. When detected later, the five-year survival rate falls to 23 percent. Every woman, of every age group, must be vigilant.”
Brinker, meanwhile, has encouraged additional investment into more sensitive, cost-effective and portable breast cancer screening technology. Komen itself has invested $17 million into screening research since its inception in 1982, including $3 million to develop new screening methodologies since the USPSTF guidelines were issued in 2009.