Medical practices and guidelines, as readers know, continually change as we continue to increase our knowledge and improve outcomes for medical treatment. This is especially the case in the area of cancer treatment. Earlier this month, for example, the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for the screening of breast cancer which increase the recommended age for women to start having mammograms.
Under the previous guidelines, women at “average risk” of developing breast cancer were told to get their first mammogram at the age of 40, but the new guideline is age 45. The majority of women at or above the age of 40 are at average risk. The new guidelines also advise women at average risk to receive mammograms every other year after the age of 55. The change is the first that has occurred in this area since 2003, and is said to be based on newer research demonstrating the risks side of cancer screening.
The guidelines encourage women to make informed decisions about when to begin cancer screening and how often they should do so. This, of course, is done in consultation with a physician who understands the woman’s personal and familial medical history. Women who are at higher risk, of course, are advised to receive earlier and more frequent screening. A competent physician will know what is appropriate for a woman, given her particular medical history.
Cancer screening is obviously an important step women can take to ensure they have the best chance possible to prevent cancer from developing further, but one of the confusing things about breast cancer screening—and other forms of cancer screening—is that not only do organizations like the American Cancer Society change their recommendations over time, but different organizations make different recommendations.
We’ll explore this issue in our next post and how it can impact medical malpractice litigation.