TUESDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) -- The timing and frequency of
mammography to detect breast cancer is a decision best customized
for each woman, based on such factors as age and breast density,
new research suggests.
One schedule for all women based on age alone is not the best
approach, said study lead author Dr. John Schousboe, medical
director of research at Park Nicollet Health Services in
Minneapolis and adjunct professor of health policy and management
at the University of Minnesota.
"It is appropriate for women when deciding how often to get a mammogram to make that decision based on how high their risk is," Schousboe said.
Factors to consider, in addition to age, are the woman's breast
density, history of breast biopsy, family history of breast cancer
and her beliefs about the potential benefits and risks of
screening, Schousboe said. Denser breasts are believed to convey a
higher risk of breast cancer.
The findings, published July 5 in the
Annals of Internal Medicine, challenge age-based guidelines from such groups as the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and may re-ignite the debate about breast-cancer screening.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised that
the decision to start regular screenings every two years before age
50 should be discussed with a woman's doctor. It advises screening
every other year for women 50 to 74.
However, the American Cancer Society and other organizations
stand behind their recommendations that women begin annual
screening at age 40.
In the new research, Schousboe and his colleagues evaluated data
on U.S. women from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium and
the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) of the
National Cancer Institute.
They developed a model to compare the lifetime costs and health
benefits for women screened annually, every two years, every three
to four years, or never.
The results apply to the general population, not to women who
carry genetic mutations known as BRCA1 or 2 that raise their risk
of breast cancer.
They concluded that screening every other year from age 40 to 49
could be cost-effective for women with higher-than-average risk
Mammography every three to four years was cost-effective for
women ages 50 to 79 with low breast density and no other risk
factors, they found.
And annual mammograms were not cost-effective for any group, no
matter what age or breast density, they said.
If a woman wants to track the four risk factors, it's important
she get an initial mammogram at age 40 to establish her breast
density, Schousboe said.
To reach their conclusions, the team took into account those
four risk factors. They assumed the women in the model all started
out healthy but could advance to six different categories, ranging
from remaining healthy to dying of breast cancer or other
They then estimated how many extra mammograms would be needed to
prevent one death from breast cancer in those having mammograms
every three to four years compared to none, and every two years
compared to three to four years.
They also estimated the cost of each mammogram schedule for each
quality-adjusted life year, a statistical measure, and considered
the impact a "false positive" reading would have on a woman's
quality of life.
The modeling study has limitations, said Robert Smith, director
of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, who is
familiar with the findings but was not involved in the
"A model isn't real life," Smith said. There is no question that advancing age, greater breast density, a family history of breast cancer or a history of breast biopsy boost the risk of breast cancer, he said.
However, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer do
not have a family history, he added. The risk factors evaluated in
the study are major ones but far from the only ones, he said.
Also, evaluation of breast density is imprecise, he said. If 10
radiologists are asked to assign a breast density score, their
ratings will likely differ, he said.
Funding for the research was provided by Eli Lilly and Co. and
the Da Costa Family Foundation for Research in Breast Cancer
Prevention of the California Pacific Medical Center and the Breast
Cancer Surveillance Consortium.
To learn more about mammograms, visit the
American Cancer Society.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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