Decrease In US Mammograms Following Task Force Proposal
June 27, 2012

Decrease In US Mammograms Following Task Force Proposal

Connie K. Ho for

There is a mantra in medicine that the best form of treatment is prevention. Prevention can be helpful, but it can be harmful as well. Interestingly enough, the U.S. Preventive Task Force advised against routine mammograms for women in their 40s. A recent study completed a follow up on the effects of the recommendation by the Task Force; the group of researchers found that the number of preventive mammograms for women in that age group has declined by about six percent nationwide.

The findings, reported by the Mayo Clinic, were recently presented at the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting. It´s a small, but significant decrease since the controversial guidelines were published.

"The 2009 USPSTF guidelines resulted in significant backlash among patients, physicians and other organizations, prompting many medical societies to release opposing guidelines," commented co-author Dr. Nilay Shah, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery, in a prepared statement. "We were interested in determining the impact that the recommendations and subsequent public debate had upon utilization of mammography in younger women."

The investigators utilized a large, national representative data of 100 health plans to determine the quantity of screening mammograms performed between January 2006 and December 2010. A total of 8 million women between the ages of 40 and 64 were included in the study. The scientists then compared the rates done before and after the task force guidelines were released. When they compared the mammography rates before and the task force report was published, the researchers discovered that the recommendations were related to a 5.72 percent decrease in the mammography rate for women between the ages of 40 and 49. Almost 54,000 fewer mammograms were performed in a year for this particular age bracket.

"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," remarked Shah in the statement. "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 terms of mammograms, the Mayo Clinic still recommends an annual screening for women beginning at age 40; this is similar to recommendations provided by the American Cancer Society. The organization utilizes a three-prong approach. First, breast health awareness is advised to patients to help them better understand the abnormalities or changes that can occur in the breast. Then, a clinical breast exam is recommended and should be completed by a health care provider. Lastly, women are advised to undergo screening mammograms starting at age 40.

Furthermore, screening mammograms can help women identify breast abnormalities early on; a past study in Sweden showed that over one million women in their 40s who had screening mammograms had a 29 percent drop in breast cancer deaths.

"Screening mammography is not a perfect exam, but it is the best available tool to detect cancer early," explained Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, a consultant in Mayo Clinic's Breast Clinic, in the statement. "Early detection can lead to better options and possibly less-aggressive treatments."