By Lauren Linhard –

Remember in high school when you  were called to the auditorium, given a fake blue boob and were taught how the art of self-examination to identify a possible tumor? Turns out that may not have been the most effective way to screen for cancer.  The American Cancer Society has updated breast cancer screening guidelines and self examination is out.  

What Changed?

  • The recommended age to begin yearly mammograms has been pushed from 40 to 45.
  • Women are no longer recommended to have mammograms every year, but every other year starting at age 55.
  • Breast exams, either from a medical professional or self-examination, are not recommended.

What’s the reasoning?

  • False-positive results are common in women younger than 50 as they tend to have denser breasts, which can result in an image that looks potentially tumorous. The later age recommendation should lead to a better, truer diagnosis rate.
  • Tumors can grow quickly in younger women, but after menopause, they tend to develop more slowly, so it’s not as urgent to have a mammogram every year.
  • Unless a tumor has already started developing, it is unlikely to find it during a physical self or medical exam.

Note: The new guidelines are meant for women at average risk of breast cancer. The society says women with a family history or who carry a gene that predisposes them to breast cancer may need to start screening earlier and more frequently.

What’s the other side say?

  • Delaying the first mammogram is delaying false-positives, said Dr. Emily Conant, chief of breast imaging at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Without a baseline mammogram, there is nothing to compare following mammograms with to determine if a patient’s’ breasts have always looked a certain way or if there is reason for concern, she added.
  • Insurance plans will most likely take the updated recommendations into account when evaluating future coverage policies, Clare Krusing, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans.
  • The cancer society looked only at whether screening saved a woman’s life, and not at whether screening caught a cancer early, said Dr. Marisa Weiss, president of The American Cancer Society made the value judgment that screening is only worth it if it improves survival, she added.

What does this mean for you ?

The fact is that you can still get breast cancer if you are younger than 40, chances are slim, but they are there. And the possibility is even greater for women who have a family history of it.

So what do you do with this information? You make decisions that are best for you. If getting a breast exam at your yearly gyno appointment makes you feel safer – continue requesting it. If you notice that a breast has changed in size or have a recurring pain – ask your doctor. Sure it could be period related, but it couldn’t hurt to ask if you’re concerned. And if you are considering a mammogram before the age of 40, then go ahead and get that mammogram. Just be educated and know the risks.

As Julia Roberts said in “Pretty Woman,” – Take care of you.