New cancer screening guidelines recommend that women begin getting mammograms later and less often.
The American Cancer Society revised its guidelines on breast cancer screening; it now recommends that annual mammograms begin at age 45, instead of age 40. Additionally, they recommend that women switch to mammograms every other year at age 55.
That means that three key groups — the American College of Obstetricians, the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services — all recommend three different ages for beginning regular mammograms: 40, 45, and 50.
Although mammograms help save lives, they also have a relatively high rate of false positives, especially for women under the age of 45. Younger women have denser breasts, which makes tumors more difficult to spot on the image, CNN reports.
A false positive could force women to undergo painful, time-consuming tests to find out if they actually have tumors or cancer. Additionally, doctors cannot reliably decide if it's a harmful tumor, which could force women to undergo radiation, chemo, or surgery to treat a non-malignant tumor.
The American Cancer Society stresses that women should undergo mammograms earlier than suggested if they feel so inclined; however, they should understand the risks involved.