New research from association member Einstein Medical Center, in Philadelphia, shows that women prefer annual mammograms, despite current recommendations for less frequent screenings.

For years, the medical community has debated how often women should get mammograms to screen for breast cancer. While the conversation usually involves clinical experts, patient preference is not always considered. To fill that void, Einstein researchers conducted a study of women undergoing screening at their health system, finding that 71 percent of women surveyed preferred getting a mammogram every year.

Currently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women get a mammogram every two years after turning 50. USPSTF previously recommended annual mammograms starting at age 40, but switched to biennial mammograms in 2009, a decision the task force reaffirmed in 2016.

The new recommendation largely reflected the harms of treating non-threatening breast cancers, unnecessary biopsies, and anxiety associated with false positives. Critics of the change argue that the benefits of early detection and intervention outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Einstein Medical Center’s study included 731 women undergoing screening and mammograms between December 2016 and February 2017. Women answered questions about:

  • the emotional impact of getting abnormal results;
  • the anxiety level they experienced getting mammograms every two years compared with annually; and
  • their preference of an annual or biennial mammogram.

The study looked at a host of variables, including age, race, history of breast cancer, undergoing prior biopsies or abnormal mammograms, and existing anxiety disorders. A family history of breast cancer and a previous breast biopsy showed a positive influence on screening preference.

This study was presented at the annual Radiological Society of North America meeting in November 2017 and provides a meaningful contribution to the ongoing national discourse on mammography screening recommendations.