New Mammogram Standards Bring Confusion

Breast cancer remains the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the United States. One of the leading weapons in the fight against breast cancer is mammography. Recently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new mammogram screening guidelines. While the guidance may be seen by many as a clear direction on treatment, it has only added to the confusion about the true effectiveness of screening protocol.

As of July 2011, the ACOG recommends that women begin having annual mammography screenings. The rationale for this position is that incidence of breast cancer in America is high, the period between detection and symptomatic growth of the cancer improves with more frequent mammograms, and that early detection tools are the keys to reducing the risk of death. This new guideline is a slight departure from the ACOG's prior recommendation of mammograms every one to two years for woman aged 40, but annually for those over 50.

Breast cancer screening guidelines have been a source of debate for some time. In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force weighed in on the issue. The Task Force, reviewing and analyzing new data, suggested a different protocol. Instead of screening starting at age 40, the Task Force recommended biennial mammography screenings for women aged 50 to 74. However, a change in the screening process could lead to many doctors failing to diagnose and detect the cancer.

Groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology strongly disagreed with the Task Force's recommendation and announced that they would continue recommending annual screenings starting at age 40, which is consistent with the new ACOG guidelines.

Mammograms, according to some breast care experts, are imprecise and can lead to inaccurate results. These results have led to patient anxiety and unnecessary treatments and procedures. Still, mammograms are seen as a vital tool in reducing breast cancer mortality in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predict that 450 men and 39,520 women will die from breast cancer in 2011. The CDC also estimates that another 2,140 men and 230,480 women will be diagnosed with the condition this year. Early detection has been the key to saving lives. While the medical community debates proper treatment courses for patient, the real test is that doctors need to tailor patient care based on the individual's needs

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