Dana-Farber experts underscore importance of mammography screenings


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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) today released new recommendations for breast cancer screening.

The USPSTF recommends against routine screening mammography for women age 40 to 49 years and encourages women to speak with their doctors about their risk for breast cancer as well as the potential benefits and harms of mammography.

Women aged 50 to 74 years should have mammography every two years. The USPSTF reports that more evidence is needed to recommend for or against screening mammography after age 74 years.

The complete guidelines, to be published in the Nov. 17 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, will be available online at www.annals.org.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute breast cancer and prevention experts feel it is important that women recognize that while mammography is not perfect, it is the best breast cancer screening tool currently available. Women are encouraged to speak with their primary care providers to discuss their health history and their risk for breast cancer.

"There is no controversy over the fact that mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths, but there has been ongoing concern about how mammograms should be best used," said Judy Garber, MD, MPH, a breast oncologist and director of the cancer risk and prevention clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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Judy Garber, MD, MPH

"These new guidelines will force many groups to reevaluate their recommendations, but we certainly don't want women and their physicians to abandon mammography, which is an imperfect tool, but is the best method we currently have to screen women at average risk of breast cancer."

Eric Winer, MD, director of the breast oncology center at Dana-Farber, added that greater focus needs to be placed on ensuring better access to the test.

"A major concern is that fully a third of women do not undergo any form of mammographic screening. We need to work to make sure that all women have access to mammography and take advantage of the benefits associated with screening."

The USPSTF is an independent panel of private-sector experts in prevention and primary care. It was first convened by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1984, and since 1998 it has been sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The USPSTF's mission is to evaluate the benefits of individual services based on age, gender, and risk factors for disease; make recommendations about which preventive services should be incorporated routinely into primary medical care and for which populations; and identify a research agenda for clinical preventive care.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.dana-farber.org) is a principal teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School and is among the leading cancer research and care centers in the United States. It is a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), designated a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It is the top ranked cancer center in New England, according to U.S. News & World Report, and one of the largest recipients among independent hospitals of National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health grant funding

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