Fewer Women in Their 40s Having Mammograms

Breast cancer mammography rates declining

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) It was standard practice - women had their first mammograms at the age of 40. That changed in 2009 when the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against mammograms for this age group.

The rates of preventive mammograms among women in their 40s have declined by nearly 6 percent nationwide since those guidelines were released, according to a Mayo Clinic analysis.

"Decide with your doctor what breast cancer screening schedule is best for you."

“The 2009 USPSTF guidelines resulted in significant backlash among patients, physicians and other organizations, prompting many medical societies to release opposing guidelines,” said study co-author Nilay Shah, PhD, a Mayo Clinic researcher in the Science of Health Care Delivery.

Dr. Shah's team reviewed national databases of 100 health plans involving nearly 8 million women between the ages of 40 and 64.

Researchers looked at the number of screening mammograms performed between January 2006 and December 2010. They compared rates before and after the USPSTF report.

A total of 5.72 percent fewer women in this age group had screening mammograms after the guidelines were released, adding up to a total of 54,000 screening tests that weren't performed.

dailyRx editorial Contributing Expert, Daniel J Kopans, MD, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, weighed in. "It is unfortunate that it appears that the guidelines promulgated by the US Preventive Services Task Force have likely reduced participation in screening," Dr. Kopans said.

"The death rate from breast cancer had been unchanged for 50 years prior to the onset of screening in the US in the mid 1980s. Soon after, the death rate began to decline and by 2010, the death rate had dropped by over 30 percent."

A study in Sweden involving more than one million women in their 40s saw the same trends. There was a 29 percent decline in breast-cancer related deaths among women in this age group who had had screening mammograms.

“Screening mammography is not a perfect exam, but it is the best available tool to detect cancer early,” says Sandhya Pruthi, MD, director of Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic. “Early detection can lead to better options and possibly less-aggressive treatments.”

Dr. Kopans told dailyRx., "I hope that women will disregard the USPSTF as was urged by the Secretary for Health and Human Services, and continue to participate in annual screening beginning at the age of 40 so that we can continue to lower the death rate from breast cancer."

Findings from this study were released at the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting, held June 24-26, 2012.

Research presented during a professional conference has not yet undergone a rigorous review process. Therefore, these findings are considered preliminary before publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

No financial information was made available. 

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Review Date: 
June 29, 2012
Last Updated:
September 10, 2012