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Doctors call new mammogram guidelines ‘distressing’

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Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU/AFP/Getty Images

KIRKLAND, Wash. — New guidelines for breast exams are causing a stir among medical professionals because they say most women can wait a lot longer before getting their first mammograms.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there is little value in mammograms for women in their 40s. The recommendation now is that women wait until they’re 50 years old before getting their first mammogram.

The screenings should happen every two years instead of every year, it says.

But local doctors strongly disagree with these new guidelines.

They say it could lead to hundreds of women dying from breast cancer nationwide.

“I am so grateful that a mammogram detected my breast cancer so early,” Lynne Goldade said.

At 43, Goldade started her battle with cancer.

Her mother died from the same disease so Goldade knew she had a higher risk.

“If I had waited till I was 50 to get a mammogram, that cancer would have been a huge problem,” Goldade said.

That is why Goldade and others are confused over a sweeping change.

The independent task force is now recommending women at average risk wait 10 more years, until they're 50 for their first mammograms, instead of 40.

“It’s very distressing because I see firsthand the importance of getting the mammogram,” Dr. Kara Carlson said.

Carlson added that waiting an extra decade to get your first mammogram could be deadly for hundreds of women.

“At Evergreen, 25% of all our breast cancers are under the age of 50; that is a startling figure,” Carlson said.

And about 90% of all of Evergreen Hospital's cases involve women with no history of breast cancer in their family.

“Every cancer is different, no two look alike,” Carlson said.

The new recommendations stem from concerns over mammograms giving false positives, leading to unnecessary procedures.

But Carlson said the benefits still outweigh the risks.

“I think women should make that decision versus a task force and, potentially, insurance companies; it's taking a step backwards,” Carlson said.

So she’s hoping to clear up any confusion.

She said all women should continue to get annual mammograms at 40.

Goldade said she and many of her friends are alive today because of it.

“The treatment, if caught early, is relatively short,” Goldade said.

Carlson said many women with a history of breast cancer should get mammograms even earlier than 40 years of age. For example, if you have a family member who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42, you should start mammograms 10 years earlier, at the age of 32, she said.

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