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Many state cancer plans drift from USPSTF breast cancer recommendations



When it comes to mammography recommendations state comprehensive cancer control (CCC) plans vary considerably and don’t always closely match the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations for mammography frequency in women at average risk for breast cancer, according to a new cross-sectional study of CCC plans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The recommended age for initiation varied widely among CCC plans, and nearly one in five bore little resemblance at all to the USPTF recommendations.

According to the authors of the study, the variation among suggested ages of initiation may indicate a lack of consensus among state agencies. “For a recommendation tied to service coverage, this is a serious gap in public health policy,” they wrote in the study published online in JAMA Network Open.

CCC plans include goals, measurable objectives, and evidence-based strategies to combat cancers that are both common and preventable. They include input from multiple groups, frequently take 4-6 years to create, and should be updated regularly. Funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires that the plans include data cancer screening prevalence rates and specific objectives and strategies.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, and the second highest cause of cancer death. Regular, high-quality screening reduces breast cancer mortality by 25%-31% among women aged 50-69. As a result, the American Cancer Society, the USPSTF, the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians have produced guidelines for mammography screening in women at average risk of breast cancer.

Although the benefits of screening are widely accepted, there is disagreement about the ages it should be initiated and ended. These inconsistencies stem from different evidence used to support recommendations, as well as different standards for benefits and harms from screening. Common concerns include overdiagnosis, false-positive results, and radiation damage from mammography.

Because these benefits and harms can vary based on age and values, there is an emphasis on shared decision-making between clinicians and women, especially those aged 40-49.

The most recent USPTF recommendation, issued in 2016, states that women aged 50-74 with average risk should be screened with mammography every 2 years. The choice of mammography in average-risk women under 50 should be approached on an individual basis. USPTF defines average risk as having no signs, symptoms, or previous diagnosis of breast cancer, and no family history or genetic causes for concern.

In the new study, researchers conducted a point-in-time evaluation of CCC plans from 50 states and the District of Columbia, between Nov. 1, 2019, and June 30, 2021.

Thirty-one percent of the plans included the complete USPTF recommendations of biennial mammography between ages 50 and 74; 51% included some, but not all of the USPTF recommendations; and 18% were not consistent at all with USPTF recommendations.

Overall, 59% of plans recommended initiation at age 50 and 37% at age 40, which is consistent with the older 2009 USPSTF recommendation. Eight percent of plans recommended starting at both 40 and 50, and 20% of plans had no recommended age of initiation.

Among the plans that were partially consistent with USPTF, 73% recommended initiation of mammography at age 40 and 31% at age 50. Eighty-five percent did not include an age to stop mammography; 15% did not include a recommended frequency; and 15% had an initiation age other than 40 or 50. Eighty-five percent of plans partially consistent with USPSTF included a recommendation that mammography should be conducted biennially.

The authors state that CCC plans could be improved by a unified emphasis on biennial screening of the general population of women aged 50-74, as well as clear differentiation between women at average risk and those at high risk, who could be screened at ages younger than 50 in consultation with their physician.

The study is limited by the fact that plans were reviewed a single time, while state CCC plans are updated with varying periodicity. The authors agree that implementation of population-based screening should be tailored to individual states and health care systems.

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