The American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest physician organization, has adopted new screening guidelines recommending that women should be eligible for routine mammography screening at age 40.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Screening mammography is performed in a woman without breast symptoms in order to detect breast cancer at an early stage when it is most easily treated. Currently, mammography is the most reliable tool for screening the general population for breast cancer and may even reduce the risk of death from breast cancer (due to early detection); however, the screening tool does have its limitations—which can include false-positive test results (a suggestion that cancer may be present when it is not); false-negative results (missed cancers); and overdiagnosis (resulting in unnecessary treatment).
Different groups of experts have reached different conclusions about when mammographic screening should begin and how often it should be performed. The new AMA policy states that beginning at age 40, all women should be eligible for screening mammography. The policy also supports insurance coverage for this screening.
The recommendation comes after several years of debate over the best screening protocol for average-risk women. In 2009 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released controversial screening guidelines recommending that routine screening of average-risk women begin at age 50 and be performed every two years. That recommendation resulted in a firestorm of criticism and debate. In contrast with the USPSTF, a number of groups, including the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—and now, the AMA, recommend annual screening beginning at age 40.
While the differing recommendations may seem confusing, they simply serve to reinforce the importance of making informed, educated decisions about your healthcare. Women who have questions about the screening schedule and approach that’s right for them are advised to talk with their physician. As always, it is important to continue to report any changes in your breasts to your physician.
AMA Adopts New Policies at Annual Meeting [AMA News Release]. June 19, 2012. American Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2012-06-19-ama-adopts-new-policies.page