Earlier this week the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force published new guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine stating that routine mammograms, generally recommended starting at age 40, should only be performed every other year on women ages 50 to 74. The guidelines also encouraged physicians to refrain from teaching their patients to examine their own breasts for signs of cancer because of a lack of beneficial evidence.
The new guidelines have undoubtedly caused an uproar in the medical community, especially for those who could be affected by the new protocol. Dr. Lilly Klancar, a medical oncologist and hematologist at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado, has worked extensively with breast cancer patients, most of whom have found their cancer themselves or had their cancer discovered by a routine mammogram.
She completely disagrees with the new guidelines, saying mammograms and self-exams are the absolute best way to catch cancer in its early stages and improve survival rates.
Klancar says about 90 percent of breast cancer patients at Swedish Medical Center have had their breast cancer caught by a mammogram. She currently has at least 15 patients who have found their own breast cancer through a self-exam, particularly a patient in her 30s who was too young to qualify for a mammogram and could have missed her aggressive form of breast cancer had she not performed a self-exam.
Self-exams are free, easy, without side effects and are ideal for women who are too young to have mammograms covered by their health insurance, Klancar says. “It never hurts anyone to know how their breasts feel normally.”
Klancar believes that these guidelines could cause more women to die from breast cancer because women under 50 may not visit their doctor until symptoms arise, generally signifying that the cancer has progressed.
Lora Barke, Medical Director of the Invision Sally Jobe Breast Network, a prominent breast and breast-related imaging center in the Denver area, says that despite the new guidelines, women should still receive mammograms starting at age 40.
She says,”While only 1 in 69 (1.5 percent) women will be diagnosed with breast
cancer in their 40s, we cannot say with any certainty if, or when, a woman will develop breast cancer. But based on evidence we can say that her odds of dying of breast cancer are increased if her cancer is diagnosed after symptoms develop. For this reason, regular mammograms are an important part of women’s preventive health care beginning at age 40.”