There are very few things more important than being well-informed about your health. Regular checkups, screenings and preventive medicine often put a patient’s mind at ease and may help increase their quality of life. Recently, the American Cancer Society has changed their recommendations on mammogram guidelines, and we’ve encountered patients who are confused, not only about what the new guidelines are, but about why they’ve changed.
How Do the New Guidelines Differ from the Old Ones?
Previously, it was recommended that women 40 and older begin having regular mammograms. The new guidelines have upped the age to 45 for women of average risk – meaning there’s no history of breast cancer in the family.
The American Cancer Society guidelines also recommend that women 45-54 have a mammogram screening annually and women 55 and older be screened every two years or have the opportunity to be screened annually if physician recommended. Again, these guidelines apply to women of average risk.
Why Did the Guidelines Change?
Simply put, the guidelines changed after an American Cancer Society risk assessment found that a number of mammograms before age 45 left women with false positive results, meaning that they had to go back for additional testing and procedures for what amounted to nothing more than benign masses and a lot of anxiety.
That being said, your doctor should be your number one source for what is best for you when it comes to mammograms. If you and your physician are more comfortable starting regular screening earlier than 45, that’s what you should do. The change in guidelines should not affect your insurance coverage, but be sure to check with your plan’s member services to confirm copays and reimbursements.
Do What Is Best for Your Personal Health
The bottom line is that the new guidelines have been put in place to help give women peace of mind and to avoid false-positive test results that can cause a lot of unnecessary stress, but the decision about your physical health is ultimately a choice you and your physician need to make together.
Take these guidelines as tools to help you make the best decision you can. No matter what you choose, don’t wait until after age 45 to get your first mammogram. Federal law requires insurance companies to pay for mammograms as early as 40, or as your physician recommends, so don’t feel like you can’t have them done earlier, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer or have other risk factors for the disease.
Dr. Deepali Patni is a board-certified Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Downtown at The Shops at Houston Center 4 and Woman’s Center locations. Her clinical interests include well-woman care and gynecological surgery.