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Recent Mammography Recommendations Highlight Important Issues

November 24, 2009

Physicians at Dartmouth Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center have prepared the following joint statement for their patients concerning the recently released recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) regarding the use of screening mammography for breast cancer.

At this time, our recommendations regarding screening mammography have not changed. Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography for women 40 years and older has contributed to a decrease in death due to breast cancer in the United States since 1990. In addition, Dartmouth researchers have shown that early detection with mammography reduces the need for aggressive treatment, such as mastectomy and chemotherapy.

"Until we have had more time to review the recommendations of the USPSTF and consider their full implications, our best advice to women is to have a conversation with their healthcare clinician, especially if they are at higher risk of breast cancer, and regardless of their age."
-Kari M. Rosenkranz, MD, Medical Director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program

However, the recent recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) regarding mammography for breast cancer screening highlight some important issues. Breast cancer is a less common disease in younger women, occurring in approximately 1 out of 622 women at age 35 versus 1 out of 17 women at age 65. As a result, the benefit of mammography is less in younger women.

It is important to recognize, however, that younger women at higher risk for breast cancer enjoy the same benefits from screening mammography as older women. Furthermore, the new USPSTF recommendations reaffirm the importance of screening mammography in women aged 50-74. We believe that it is critical for women in this age group to undergo regular screening mammography and hope to boost utilization of screening mammography to 100 percent.

At present, we are in the process of critically reviewing the USPSTF recommendations. As we strive to understand the full implications of these recommendations, our best advice is for women in their forties, especially those at higher risk for breast cancer, and women 50-74 years old, to undergo regular screening mammography.

We encourage all women to have conversations with their healthcare clinicians about breast cancer screening strategies with the goal of determining what is best for each individual.

"Until we have had more time to review the recommendations of the USPSTF and consider their full implications, our best advice to women is to have a conversation with their health care clinician, especially if they are at higher risk of breast cancer, and regardless of their age," said Kari M. Rosenkranz, MD, Medical Director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

For more information, call our Cancer Help Line at (800) 639-6918.