New Guidelines Dial Back on Routine Mammograms for Women Under 50

Women in their forties should consult with their physicians, the revised breast cancer screening recommendations say.

Nurse with woman having a mammogram

choja/Getty Images

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Mammograms need not be routine until women at average risk for breast cancer turn 50, according to revised recommendations released yesterday by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Women in their 40s, say the guidelines, should consult with their health care providers about the risks and benefits of mammograms before beginning screenings every one to two years. After age 75, women should discuss with their doctors whether to continue screenings, considering their current health and life expectancy. Previously, ACOG had recommended annual screenings for all women starting at age 40.

The National Cancer Institute, a government agency, estimates that about 12.4 percent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. It’s most frequently diagnosed among women aged 55-64, and results in about 40,000 deaths per year.

ACOG’s updated recommendations arrive amid mounting evidence that the risks of mammograms may outweigh the benefits, especially for women under 50. In a 2015 Mother Jones feature, Christie Aschwanden dug into mammogram science and found that, while mammograms do save some lives, some women end up with unnecessary and even potentially harmful treatments.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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