New government guidelines for mammograms released Monday by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force have left women feeling confused and the medical community divided.
The task force contradicted the American Cancer Society’s guidelines that say all women should get a base mammogram done by the age of 40 – some women considered "high risk" should get a baseline by age 35. The cancer society recommends that women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram repeated annually until the age of 75.
Dr. Cynara Coomer, a breast surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and Fox News contributor said she disagrees with the new guidelines for several reasons.
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"There are many women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 40 and 49, solely on mammogram findings," Coomer said. "Not only that, this is not about survival outcome. This is also about treatment options that are available to women at an earlier stage. If you are diagnosed earlier rather than later, there are more treatment options available and the treatment is much less aggressive."
But the task force has called for women to start getting their mammograms done at the age of 50 and repeating the test every two years.
The government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of survival.
The task force also said women should do away with self-breast exams, as they aren’t effective.
Dr. Amy Abernethy of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center agreed with the task force's changes.
"Overall, I think it really took courage for them to do this," she said. "It does ask us as doctors to change what we do and how we communicate with patients. That's no small undertaking."
Coomer said 40 percent of the breast cancer patients she sees are under the age of 50 and many of them have been diagnosed from a mammogram.
"These recommendations put women at a risk for being diagnosed at a later stage, and as a result, we’ll see an increase in morbidity and mortality in women with breast cancer," she said.
Coomer said all women – especially younger women – should perform self-breast exams periodically, in order to be aware of changes in their breast tissue.
"If you aren’t getting mammograms, and you check yourself, you may feel a lump and that could prompt a further medical workup," Coomer added.
"The other thing is that if the motivation is cost-savings – if we are diagnosing women at a later stage, the cost of taking care of those women will far outweigh the cost that we’ll be saving by decreasing the number of screening mammograms," Coomer added.
Abernethy, who is 41, said she got her first mammogram the day after her 40th birthday, even though she wasn't convinced it was needed.
Now she doesn't plan to have another mammogram until she is 50.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.