Doctors and health advocates react to breast cancer screening changes

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Two weeks after the American Cancer Society (ACS) dropped a bombshell by changing its recommendations on when a woman should get a mammogram, the voice of opposition has only gotten louder and some doctors have started to push back.

Radiologist Dr. Priti Shah with VCU Massey Cancer Center has recently spent a lot of time answering questions about the new recommendations.

"We are getting questions from patients about what they should do,” Dr. Shah said.

The ACS now recommends that women with an average risk to start yearly mammograms at age 45 instead of 40. At 55, they can switch to every two years. The ACS adds - women can start screening at age 40, “if they wish.”

An average risk of breast cancer refers to a woman who doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer, and a woman who hasn’t had a personal history of breast cancer and a genetic mutation.

“Breast cancer is a fight we fight with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion,” Dr. Shah said. “We have these recommendations that show a clear benefit. Now it seems like we're pulling in the reins.”

She pointed out that this latest change has added to the confusion over women’s health best practices.

Some leading doctors in the fight against breast cancer have begun to push back. They’ve publically aired their concerns in the New York Times.

The Chair of Breast Imaging at Massey wrote a passionate op-ed in the Times Dispatch. Dr. Gilda Cardenosa wrote “annual mammography starting at age 40 saves lives. It would be a travesty to see a reversal because of potential harms perceived in screening.”

Those potential harms that prompted the changes are anxiety, false positives and complications from possible biopsies.

Still, doctors at Massey are following the previous ACS recommendations that screening should start at age 40. They’re also telling their patients to follow their gut.

“If they decide not to have a mammogram that's okay,” Shah said. ‘We want to let them know the opportunity is still there.”

It's not clear which recommendation insurance companies will follow, which could affect coverage.

So far, the ACS has said patients shouldn't see any changes in insurance coverage this year.

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