Background: The appropriateness and cost-effectiveness of screening mammography (SM) for women younger than 50 and older than 74 years is debated in the clinical research community, among health care providers, and by the American public. This study explored primary care physicians' (PCPs) perceptions of the influence of clinical practice guidelines for SM; the recommendations for SM in response to hypothetical case scenarios; and the factors associated with perceived SM effectiveness and recommendations in the US from June to December 2009 before the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently revised guidelines. Methods. A nationally representative sample of 11,922 PCPs was surveyed using a web-based questionnaire. The response rate was 5.7% (684); (41%) 271 family physicians (FP), (36%) 232 general internal medicine physicians (IM), (23%) 150 obstetrician-gynaecologists (OBG), and (0.2%) 31 others. Cross-sectional analysis examined PCPs perceived effectiveness of SM, and recommendation for SM in response to hypothetical case scenarios. PCPs responses were measured using 4-5 point adjectival scales. Differences in perceived effectiveness and recommendations for SM were examined after adjusting for PCPs specialty, race/ethnicity, and the US region. Results: Compared to IM and FP, OBG considered SM more effective in reducing breast cancer mortality among women aged 40-49 years (p = 0.003). Physicians consistently recommended mammography to women aged 50-69 years with no differences by specialty (p = 0.11). However, 94% of OBG "always recommended" SM to younger and 86% of older women compared to 81% and 67% for IM and 84% and 59% for FP respectively (p = <.001). In ordinal regression analysis, OBG specialty was a significant predictor for perceived higher SM effectiveness and recommendations for younger and older women. In evaluating hypothetical scenarios, overall PCPs would recommend SM for the 80 year woman with CHF with a significant variation by specialty (38% of OBG, 18% of FP, 17% of IM; p = <.001). Conclusions: A majority of physicians, especially OBG, favour aggressive breast cancer screening for women from 40 through 79 years of age, including women with short life expectancy. Policy interventions should focus on educating providers to provide tailored recommendations for mammography based on individualized cancer risk, health status, and preferences. © 2012 Yasmeen et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.