April 23, 2015

SWHR Expresses Concern with USPSTF’s Mammography Guideline Update

This week, the United States Preventative Services Taskforce (USPSTF) released a new set of mammography guidelines, the first since the taskforce’s controversial 2009 update. The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is concerned that the proposed guidelines may limit access to mammograms for millions of women and run counter to most professional societies’ guidelines, which recommend annual screening beginning at the age of 40.

USPSTF’s new recommendations states that screening is most beneficial for women between the ages of 50 to 75 years of age, and that these women should be screened on a biannual basis. This update reaffirms the USPSTF’s 2009 guidance that women between the ages of 40-49 should consult with their healthcare provider to weigh the benefits and risks associated with screening. For women older than 75, the USPSTF has found that evidence is insufficient in assessing the benefits and harms of mammography for this demographic.

“The updated guidelines are concerning,” said Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, President and CEO, of the Society for Women’s Health Research. “Of the approximate 40,000 women who die from breast cancer each year, up to 10,000 had breast cancer that potentially could have been diagnosed with mammography screenings had they been initiated before the age of 50. SWHR urges women to be advocates of their own health and speak to their healthcare provider to determine what is right for them, given their family and medical history.”

Although mammograms are imperfect tools in the fight against breast cancer, they have reduced breast cancer mortality in women by 30 percent. In October 2014, SWHR released the findings of a mammography study, which asked women their preferences on mammography and breast cancer prevention. “Our study overwhelmingly found women wanted access to mammograms that offer better detection and lower their chances of being called back for more testing, said Greenberger. We are concerned that the guidelines will result in less women receiving mammograms on a regular basis.”

The study also found that the most significant barriers women face in getting an annual mammogram are high cost and lack of insurance, which is why, even though a majority of women strongly believe mammograms are important, nearly half (46 percent) fail to make it an annual occurrence. If finalized as is, the USPSTF guidelines could limit access to mammography for 22 million women between the ages of 40 and 49, as insurers will no longer be required to offer these screenings without a copay to women younger than 50.

Click here to learn more about our research on breast cancer screenings.