Over four-fifths of women feel uneasy about being told that routine breast cancer screening for the under 50s is not obligatory. Guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in 2009 upped the minimum age from which women should routinely be screened for breast cancer from 40 to 50 years, and also said that screening should occur every two years up to the age of 74.

You can read about this study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

USPSTF stressed that women under 50 could order a screening if they wanted to – it did not tell them not to.

AuTumn Davidson, M.D., and team set out to determine what women’s attitudes were toward the new 2009 USPSTF mammography screening guidelines, as well as evaluating the role of the media in influencing opinions.

They asked 247 women aged 39 to 49 years to read a couple of articles and to complete a survey questionnaire.

They found that:

  • 88% of them overestimated their lifetime breast cancer risk
  • 89% wanted annual screenings to start when the woman is 40
  • 86% thought the new guidelines were “unsafe”. Even if their doctors agreed with the change to 50, they would make sure they were checked earlier.
  • 92% of those with a friend with breast cancer wanted breast screenings in their 40s, compared to 77% of those with no friends with breast cancer

The authors concluded:

“Women overestimate breast cancer risk. Skepticism of new mammogram guidelines exists, and is increased by exposure to negative media. Those with prior false-positive mammograms are less likely to accept changes.”

“Attitudes of women in their forties toward the 2009 USPSTF mammogram guidelines: a randomized trial on the effects of media exposure”
AuTumn S. Davidson, MD, Xun Liao, MS, B. Dale Magee, MD.
American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Published online 15 April 2011. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2011.04.005

Written by Christian Nordqvist