According to a Mayo Clinic analysis, the rate of women in their 40s who have preventive mammographies has fallen by almost 6% nationwide since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against routine mammograms for women in this age group.

Although small, this decrease is nevertheless significant since the release of these controversial guidelines. Nilay Shah, Ph.D., a researcher at the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery presented the study at the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting, in Orlando, FL.

Shah, who co-authored the study said:

“The 2009 USPSTF guidelines resulted in significant backlash among patients, physicians and other organizations, prompting many medical societies to release opposing guidelines. We were interested in determining the impact that the recommendations and subsequent public debate had upon utilization of mammography in younger women.”

The researchers used a large, national representative database of 100 health plans, which included almost 8 million women between the age of 40 to 64 to establish how many mammograms were performed between January 2006 and December 2010.

The team then compared the number of mammograms before and after the guidelines were released, discovering that the recommendations were linked to a drop of 5.72% in screenings for women aged between 40 to 49 years, which is almost 54,000 less mammograms performed in this age group.

Dr. Shah states:

“For the first year after the guidelines changed, there was a small but significant decrease in the rate of mammography for women ages 40-49. This is consistent with the context of the guidelines change. A modest effect is also in line with the public resistance to the guidelines change and the subsequent release of conflicting guidelines.”

In line with recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the Mayo Clinic continues to recommend that women from 40 years onwards should have an annual mammogram. The Mayo Clinic’s three-tiered recommendations consist of:

  • Breast health awareness, for women to familiarize themselves with their body in order to detect any abnormalities or changes in their breasts and to seek medical advice for any changes that believe may need investigating.
  • Above 40, women are recommended to have a yearly clinical breast exam performed by a health care provider.
  • Mammography testing should start at the age of 40 years.

Mammograms are an early identification tool for identifying breast abnormalities in women in their 40s. A large Swedish study provided evidence that from over 1 million women in their 40s, screening mammograms resulted in 29% less breast cancer deaths.

Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic concluded:

“Screening mammography is not a perfect exam, but it is the best available tool to detect cancer early. Early detection can lead to better options and possibly less-aggressive treatments.”

Written by Petra Rattue