Making Sense of Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Written by: Julie McMahon | Director of Mission at Komen Columbus

Nurse With Patient About To Have A MammogramIn 2015, both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released guidelines for the recommended age of regular mammography. ACS raised its age recommendation for women of average risk to 45, while USPSTF recommends 50 for the same group. To make things more confusing, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends age 40. Each group has differing recommendations for higher risk women with family histories, personal risk factors, or gene mutations. So where does Susan G. Komen®  weigh in?

Susan G. Komen® believes age should not be a limiting factor in preventive screening.  All women should have access to regular screening mammograms when they and their health care providers decide it is best based on their personal risk of breast cancer. In addition, screening should be covered by insurance companies, government programs and other third-party payers.

Our concern is that the continuing debate over the timing of mammography fails to address several important issues. First, the medical field is moving towards determining individual needs for screening based on a women’s unique characteristics. Our discussions about screening should be shifting to how women and providers can make informed decisions about screening schedules personalized to what is right for individuals. Knowledge is power.

Second, about one-third of women who should be getting screened are not getting screened. At Komen, we are taking all steps necessary to ensure that women don’t face economic or other barriers when screening is recommended to them.

Third, we absolutely need to continue investing in finding screening methods that are more accurate, cost-effective, easy-to-administer, and more widely available than mammography. Komen has invested $33 million to date into research for better screening, such as blood and tissue tests. Learn more.

Women should know that the current differing age recommendations are not binding on health care providers or payers, but we are concerned they have the potential to lead to reduced access in the future, and cause women to focus on the wrong things when considering screening now. We don’t want women who may have unique risk profiles to dismiss getting screened because they heard they don’t need to start until a certain age.

Komen is not in the guideline business. We believe all women should learn their family history, become aware of their own bodies, and report any changes to their doctor. All women, at any age, should have access to mammography if they and their provider determine it is the right time to begin screening- and it should be covered by insurance and government programs.

Komen continues to take a leadership position in coalition groups to reach a consensus position in order to provide clarity for women, to advocate on behalf of access to and funding for screening, to empower individuals with the knowledge they need for informed decision-making, and to invest in research to discover screening tools that are better than what we have now.