But some experts believe the panel overestimated the downsides of more frequent screenings. The appropriate schedule for screenings can vary from doctor to doctor and patient to patient and has become quite confusing.
“Many women may not even be aware of the guidelines, or that mammography has drawbacks, and that they have the option of starting screening at age 45 or 50,” Dr. Jennifer L. Marti, Assistant professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine who led the new study, said in an interview. “In almost every other country, women start at age 50.”
While many women might assume that “the benefits of screening for breast cancer outweigh the disadvantages,” said Dr Marti, this isn’t always the case for women who are not at high risk.
Weill Cornell researchers Dr. Marti and her co-authors Mark Lee and Neal Patel decided to review the recommendations posted on the websites of some 606 breast cancer centers in the United States. They found that 376 centers – more than half – had made different recommendations than the U.S. task force, saying women at average risk for breast cancer should start imaging at age 40.
And 347 centers said women should not just start at 40, but continue every year.
More rigorous screening may be appropriate for certain high-risk groups, such as Ashkenazi Jewish women, who are more likely to carry mutations that put them at risk for breast and ovarian cancer, and black women, who were probably under-represented in mammography screening trials, Dr. Dit Marti.
Women who want help assessing their individual risk in making screening decisions can use an online tool developed by Dr Margaret Polaneczky, gynecologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Elena Elkin, researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, suggested Dr Marti.
As for me, I’ve been on a two-year plan for a while. I do regular breast self-exams and clinical breast exams. So even though I felt a hint of irrational guilt after receiving the text messages, I politely asked a receptionist to stop calling. I promised I would be in touch.