American Cancer Society changes breast cancer screening recommendations

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KANSAS CITY, Mo -- The American Cancer Society says it no longer recommends routine breast exams by your doctor because there's no clear evidence that they help detect cancer. The society is also recommending women start getting mammograms at age 45, and that they get fewer mammograms after 55.

A mammogram at age 42 detected Connie Smith's breast cancer. She'd started getting screened at 40, following American Cancer Society guidelines. But that group's new guidelines say annual mammograms should begin at 45 in average-risk women although they can choose to start at 40. The society noted the number of breast cancer cases and deaths is lower in women under 45. Smith's reaction?

"That I might not have survived or my prognosis would have been much different. Yea, I don't even want to think about that," Smith said.

Dr. Kimberly Roys, a radiologist at Johnson County Imaging, says she's concerned about the new guidelines.

"We're going to be missing so many early breast cancers and it's a really scary thought," said Dr. Roys.

Dr. Roys is also concerned about the society's new guideline that women over 55 transition to screening every other year although they still should have the opportunity to continue annually. Dr. Roys points to what happened to a 61-year-old woman who waited two years. A large cancer was found.

"The cancers we see if a woman misses a year tend to be much more advanced," she said.

Cindy Mason, who's also 61, recently had a small, very early cancer diagnosed with annual screening.

"You let it go two years, mine could have been invasive by then. You just don't know with this. I think every year is very important to do this," said Mason.

But the cancer society says the benefits are less after menopause. Cancers tend to be less aggressive. And annual screening results in more false positive results and unnecessary screening and treatment that can come with that.

The Susan G. Komen breast cancer group says it's concerned that the new cancer society guidelines "have the potential to lead to reduced accessibility to and coverage for health screenings from both private and public insurers."

Komen says all women should have access to regular mammograms when they and their health care providers decide that it is the right time for screening.