July 5, 2012 — The number of women in their 40s who received mammograms declined in the year after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advised against the screenings for that age group, according to a new study, the New York Times' "Well" reports. The findings were presented at the annual research meeting of AcademyHealth, a research and policy group.
The USPSTF guidelines, released in 2009, recommend that women with a normal risk for breast cancer receive a mammogram every other year from ages 50 through 74. The task force -- an independent expert panel appointed by HHS -- said earlier screening was unwarranted and potentially harmful because of its tendency to detect small, slow-growing tumors that might never prove lethal but could lead to unnecessary tests and treatments.
The recommendation that women in their 40s forgo routine mammograms was controversial, in part because many breast cancer patients claimed that early mammograms saved their lives. USPSTF's guidelines also conflicted with those of the American Cancer Society and other medical groups that call for annual mammograms starting at age 40.
Mayo Clinic researchers examined data on eight million women enrolled in 100 U.S. health plans, comparing the number of mammograms performed between January 2006 and December 2010 -- before the task force's guidelines were released -- with those in the year after.
Nearly 54,000 fewer women ages 40 to 49 were screened for breast cancer in the year after the release of the guidelines than in the period before, representing a 5.72% decrease, the study found. Although the task force recommended that older women be screened biennially, the number of mammograms among women ages 50 to 64 remained steady, the study noted.
The researchers said the decrease among younger women was modest but nonetheless significant, according to "Well." The decline likely mirrored public resistance to the new guidelines, which was driven in part by the differences from the recommendations of other groups, they added (O'Connor, "Well," New York Times, 7/2).