Screening guidelines provide women with a variety of recommendations on when to screen and how to screen for breast cancer. The latest guidelines from the American Cancer Society add to a list of differing and sometimes confusing screening recommendations for women. The various recommendations highlight the fact that decisions around when and how often to screen for breast cancer – either through mammograms or other techniques – should be made by a woman and her physician, and be based on the woman’s risk factors and other health considerations.

Below the video, experts from Adventist HealthCare offer answers to several important questions following the release of our statement on the latest breast screening guidelines.

What are the latest breast screening guidelines for women?

The new American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer receive mammograms starting at age 45. The new ACS guidelines also recommend mammograms every two years for women 55 and older. The new ACS guidelines DO NOT state that women between 40 and 44 should not get a mammogram. Instead, the ACS recommends that women between the ages of 40 and 44 have the opportunity to start annual mammograms. Finally, and similar to other breast screening guidelines, the ACS does not recommend breast self-exams.

While these guidelines are different than other existing recommendations, all existing guidelines, including those issued by the ACS, indicated that women should talk with their healthcare provider about when to begin screening and how often to be screened.

If I am between 40 and 45, how do the latest guidelines affect me? Should I get a mammogram each year?

The latest guidelines from the ACS recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer receive mammograms starting at age 45. While this represents a change, the ACS recommends that women between the ages of 40 and 44 have the opportunity to start annual mammograms.

Other well-respected national groups such as the American College of Radiology, the Society for Breast Imaging and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology still recommend that all women start mammograms at age 40. Women between 40 and 44 years should discuss individual health risks and benefits of mammograms and other breast exams with her physician or healthcare provider.

The ACS now recommends mammograms every other year for women 55 and older for as long as a woman is in good health. Other well-respected national groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, the American College of Radiology and the Society for Breast Imaging, still recommend mammograms every year for women ages 50 and older.

If you are a woman age 40 and older, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about the best breast cancer screening approach for you based on your personal and family history.

Are self-breast exams still recommended?

The new ACS guidelines do not recommend breast self-exams or clinical breast exams from a medical provider. The ACS cites research showing that breast exams do not provide a clear benefit. While breast self-exams may be less effective at finding breast cancer when compared (independently) to mammograms or other screening techniques, many organizations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, suggest that breast self-exams help women become familiar with their bodies, take a proactive role in their own health and note changes. Despite the new ACS guidelines, many health experts agree that there is no harm in performing a monthly self-exam. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology still recommends clinical breast exams every year starting at age 19.

Who released the new breast cancer screening guidelines and how were they developed?

The new guidelines were issued by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The new guidelines on breast cancer screening are based on an analysis of research data, which the ACS conducts regularly. In accordance with the new guideline development process, the ACS formed an interdisciplinary guideline development group. The group then conducted an evidence review of breast cancer screening literature to inform the update and a supplemental analysis of mammography registry data to address questions related to the screening interval. The recommendations are based on the quality of the evidence about the balance between the benefits and harms of breast screenings. These updated guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations for breast cancer screening for women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer.

What methods of detecting breast cancer are available to women?

There are several ways to screen for breast cancer in women. These include self and clinical breast exams, mammography, ultrasound or MRI. Breast cancer is treated most effectively when discovered at an early stage and research indicates that mammograms are the best tool for early detection. According to the American College of Radiology, mammograms result in a 35% reduction in breast cancer deaths and save thousands of lives each year. Because individual risk level varies, women are encouraged to speak to a physician or healthcare provider about which screening is best based on personal and family history.