Breast Cancer Screening: How Often Is Often Enough?

Annual breast cancer screening recommended by majority of breast and general surgeons, going against guidelines

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Most women should get screened for breast cancer every other year, according to some current guidelines. But many surgeons may recommend a schedule that adheres to different guidelines.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says women who are 50 or older should only be screened every other year. The American Cancer Society (ACS), however, recommends that women 40 and older should be screened for breast cancer annually. A new study found that a large majority of breast and general surgeons made recommendations that were more in line with the ACS.

The USPSTF is an independent panel of experts in the field of preventive medicine. The group regularly reviews the latest research. After review, it issues guidelines about preventive care. Other groups, such as the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, say that each woman should make an individual decision after talking with her doctor.

The authors of this study, led by Dr. Vilert Loving, of the Anderson Cancer Center in Banner, MD, found that most breast and general surgeons didn’t follow USPSTF breast screening guidelines. They didn't follow the guidelines for their patients or in making personal decisions.

Dr. Loving said in a press release, "We found that the majority of surveyed breast surgeons advocate and personally follow the screening mammography recommendations of the ACS, the American College of Radiology, and the Society of Breast Imaging, instead of those of the USPSTF."

Dr. Loving and co-authors Drs. Jiyon Lee and Elaine Tanaka surveyed 288 surgeons.

They split the study patients into three groups: women 40 years old, women more than 40 years old and men. They also asked the surgeons to identify their medical specialty.

Dr. Loving and team asked the surgeons about their clinical practices. Also, these researchers asked what sort of recommendations the surgeons made to their patients, friends, and family about screening practices and other breast health habits.

Finally, Dr. Loving and team asked about the surgeons’ personal experience with screening. They asked the surgeons the age at which they started screening and how often they were screened.

More than 80 percent of both breast and general surgeons said women should be screened annually starting at age 40, Dr. Loving and team found. Among breast surgeons, 88 percent recommended yearly screening.

Ninety-three percent of female surgeons said they began or would begin yearly screenings themselves at age 40.

“As we anticipate the USPSTF's impending guidelines this year, the public should know that the physicians who diagnose and treat women with breast cancer still believe in annual mammography starting at age 40 for average-risk women," Drs. Lee and Tanaka said in a press release.

This study was presented April 21 at the American Roentgen Ray Society 2015 Annual Meeting in Toronto. Research presented at conferences may not have been-peer reviewed.

Funding and conflict of interest information was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
April 16, 2015
Last Updated:
April 28, 2015