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American Cancer Society Has New Guidelines On When Mammograms Should Start

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) --  The American Cancer Society has issued new guidelines on breast cancer screenings for women.

New guidelines from the American Cancer Society say women can have fewer mammograms, starting at a later age.  That's causing a lot of concern and confusion.  Many doctors say it's hard to figure how less is better when it comes to cancer screenings,  but that's what the new recommendation says. That's not the only issue for doctors, three major groups now have conflicting recommendations on mammograms.

Shari Forrest had her first mammogram at age 35 after she felt a lump in her breast. Luckily it was a false alarm. "I've gone every year since," Shari says.

The American Cancer Society is now recommending women at average risk have yearly mammograms starting at age 45, not 40.

Dr. Kevin Charles Oeffinger the study author says, " Between 40 and 44 breast cancers less common. There's still the risk for a false positive. So we thought that needs to be an informed, shared decision between the woman and her health care provider."

"Between 45-years-of-age to 54-years-of-age, the American Cancer Society recommends that women should be screened annually. At 55-years- of-age, women can transition to bi-annual screening, but they reserve the opportunity to screen annually," said Dr. Carmen Guerra, President of the Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition, it's no longer recommending doctors manually feel for lumps.

She admits there may be some confusion as other groups have made different suggestions. The best advice is speak with your doctor.

Starting at 55, the American Cancer Society now recommends screenings every two years.  That's closer to the U.S. Preventive Task force guidelines which recommends mammograms every two years starting at age 50.

"I think it leaves women in a very confused place," says Dr. Debra Copit, the Director of Breast Imaging at  Einstein Healthcare Network.

She's worried about the new recommendations, that also include eliminating clinical breast exams.  "I'm disappointed that the American Cancer Society isn't aligned with many other organizations that specialize in cancer and breast cancer diagnosis," Dr. Copit says.

She says false positive readings can be well managed. Shari agrees and says she'd rather be safe than sorry.

There's some concern that insurance companies won't cover mammograms in women under the age of 45 because of these new guidelines, but the Affordable Care Act currently mandates that mammograms are covered after the age of 40 and always when medically necessary.  Women with any concerns are being advised to talk to their doctors.

CBS 3's Stephanie Stahl and KYW's Lynne Adkins contributed to this report.

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