Group: Start mammograms at 40, not 50

There's been a lot of confusing advice about when women should start getting regular mammograms. New guidelines out Wednesday recommend that all women 40 and older get one every year. That's more often than the previous guidelines.

CBS News correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook looked into the changes.

The confusion about mammograms started about two years ago, when a government panel turned previous advice on its head and stopped recommending mammograms every one-to-two years starting at age 40; instead, it suggested starting routine mammography at 50.

The panel also recommended against breast self-exams. Since then, doctors have debated what to do.

Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- doctors on the front lines of women's health care -- issued its own guidelines: Annual mammograms starting at age 40 and self-exams for women at high risk for breast cancer.

The organization joins a long list of other professional groups who disagree with the government panel's suggestion to wait until age 50.

But why is there so much disagreement about screening for breast cancer?

The reason is mammography is imperfect, especially for women in their 40s, where you have to screen a lot of women to pick up one cancer. But if you're that one person, it can be life-saving. And even though breast cancer is less frequent in younger women, it often is faster growing. So finding it early is crucial -- and that's the thinking behind the new guidelines today.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook