Some women confused by new breast cancer guidelines

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – There are new recommendations regarding when women ought to get mammograms — and they are creating confusion.

“Women are confused about what to do,” said Dr. Cherie Kuzmiak, director of breast imaging UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The American Cancer Society now recommends mammograms starting at age 45 instead of 40 and that women 55 and older should cut back to screenings every other year.

The guidelines for women getting mammograms are for women of average risk. But those guidelines just don’t apply for some women, doctors said.

“Guidelines are recommendations —not absolutes,” Kuzmiak said. “They are things to follow, like how many fruits and vegetables do you need in a day.”

A mammogram saved the life of Pam Kuhl.

“I had an annual screening for my mammogram,” she said. “I had no family history, had no idea I was at risk in any way. I had an annual mammogram and found out I had something suspicious. I  had ultrasound and a diagnostic screening.”

Sometimes, cancer is found before a mammogram.

Julie McQueen, another breast cancer survivor, said, “When I was 39, I went to my primary care physician for a routine physical. During that exam he did a clinical breast exam and during that exam he found a lump in my breast.”

Although the guidelines push back the age when the average woman should get a mammogram, some women wonder if the tests ought to be done even earlier.

“A lot of women are getting sicker earlier, not later in their lives, and I don’t think 45 or 40 is good,” said Sheeja Cotton. “I think maybe 30 or earlier than that.”

Mammograms do have risks. But some women say they will keep getting yearly mammograms because the risks are worth it.

“I’d rather err on the side of caution knowing what I have than in the future getting too much radiation,” said Maria Enriquez. “There’s radiation everywhere — my cell phone. I worry more about it than my mammogram.”

Right now doctors, say the mammogram is the only tool doctors have and they say it’s not perfect. They say they need to come up with something better that will help detect breast cancers.

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