Women, when they reach 40 years of age, should be eligible for screening mammography, and should have that screening covered by insurance, says the American Medical Association (AMA), in what it describes as a recommendation update.

The AMA emphasized that while mammography is the most reliable breast cancer screening tool available today for the general population, it does have its limitations.

AMA board member Patrice A. Harris, M.D., said:

“Early detection of breast cancer increases the odds of a patient’s survival, and mammography screenings are an important tool in discovering this cancer. patients are different and have varying degrees of cancer risk, and patients should regularly talk with their doctors to determine if mammography screening is right for them.”

A patient undergoing a mammogram of the right breast

The British National Health Service (NHS), which is a universal health care program, currently invites all females aged from 50 to 70 years for breast screening – the NHS recommends that screening is done once every three years, unless the woman is in a high-risk group. Women in their forties are welcome to come in and be screened, the NHS adds.

A study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) suggests that introducing breast cancer screening in the UK may have caused more harm than good. (Link to article)

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that false-positive mammogram results put women off from undergoing further screenings, and undermine the effectiveness of breast cancer screening programs. (Link to article)

A study by a team from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), showed that between 15% and 25% of breast screening cases are overdiagnosed. They wrote “Mammography might not be appropriate for use in breast cancer screening because it cannot distinguish between progressive and non-progressive cancer.” (Link to article)

As half of all 40 to 49-year-old women diagnosed with breast cancer had no family history of the disease, scientists from the Elizabeth Wende Breast Care, LLC in Rochester, NY, say that even seemingly “low-risk” women should undergo screening mammography. (Link to article).

Some experts recommend adding ultrasound scans or MRIs onto women’s annual mammography screenings, saying that detection rates among those with a higher risk of breast cancer and dense breast tissue are better. (Link to article)

Dutch researchers found that breast cancer screening saves a considerable number of lives, even after improved treatments are taken into account. (Link to article)

Another Dutch study that looked at the pros and cons of one of the longest-ever national breast cancer screening programs, concluded that the benefits (lives saved) far outweigh any harms caused by screening, such as over-diagnosis or false-positives. (Link to article)

A report issued by the NCI (National Cancer Institute) and the CDCF (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), found that in the USA cancer screening rates low among ethnic groups. (Link to article)

Researchers at the Erasmus MC at Rotterdam in the Netherlands said that mammography screening reduced risk for death from breast cancer by half. (Link to article)

Scientists from the University Hospitals (UH) Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that breast screening remains beneficial for “younger women” (women in their 40s). (Link to article)

Written by Christian Nordqvist