Lower-risk women need fewer mammograms: study

Wed Jul 6, 2011 11:01pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Less-frequent mammograms for women at low risk for breast cancer can be a cost-effective way of saving lives, according to a study that challenges current screening guidelines.

Women with no family history of the cancer, no previous biopsy from a cancer scare and breasts that are not very dense might get a similar benefit from mammograms every three to four years, instead of every two, said a report published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an expert panel with federal support, advises women to have a mammogram every two years, but lead researcher John Schouseboe said the new study provides a more personalized set of mammogram guidelines than what is currently available.

"The benefits of mammography are going to depend a lot on what your underlying risk is, and the current guidelines look only at age," Schousboe, a doctor at Park Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis, told Reuters Health.

Current recommendations say women aged 50 to 74 should have a mammogram every two years, unless the woman and her doctor feel there is reason to make an exception.

The team used data from two national surveys, which tracked the frequency of mammograms and the breast cancer rates of more than a million women, to form hypothetical scenarios.

In one, they were not screened, while in another they got mammograms every two years. In a third scenario they received a mammogram every three to four years.

All scenarios assumed that at age 40, every woman received a mammogram to reveal her breast density.

For women in their 40s with less dense breasts and no other risk factors, the study found that screening at any interval, whether biennially or every three to four years, was not cost effective.   Continued...