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Newest mammogram recommendation from task force under scrutiny

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Politicians, women, and physicians are voicing concerns over new recommendations issued by US Preventive Services Task Force about mammogram breast cancer screening for women. The newest guidelines from the task force recommend that mammograms begin at age 50 instead of age 40, but physicians and the public are dismayed over the possibility that cancer in younger women may go undiagnosed, placing mammogram guidelines from the task force under public scrutiny.

A statement from the American College of Radiology (ACR) opposed the newest mammogram recommendations, saying the changes, "will result in countless unnecessary breast cancer deaths each year.” citing cost savings as the impetus behind the recommendation.

The newest mammogram recommendation has also produced outrage among women who have survived breast cancer. Breastcancer.org is currently offering a petition, “To encourage governing bodies and key medical institutions to preserve the present screening guidelines”. Breastcancer.org intends to send the petition to the American Cancer Society, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, World Health Organization, insurance providers, individual member of the Preventive Services Task Force, news media, member of Congress, and key medical organizations, in addition to breast cancer advocacy organizations.

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The American Cancer Society has perhaps issued the strongest statement about the new mammogram guidelines suggested by the task force saying, “The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual screening using mammography and clinical breast examination for all women beginning at age 40. Our experts make this recommendation having reviewed virtually all the same data reviewed by the USPSTF, but also additional data that the USPSTF did not consider. When recommendations are based on judgments about the balance of risks and benefits, reasonable experts can look at the same data and reach different conclusions.”

Most importantly, women can speak with their physician and obtain a mammogram at any age. According to Judy Ockene, a member of the US Preventive Services Task Force, cites scientific evidence that women can safely wait until age 50 for mammograms when breast cancer becomes more common. She says the intention of the task force was not to make those guidelines for mammogram an absolute.

Some physicians feel the new guidelines for mammogram screening at age 50 are economically driven. Joseph Stubbs, MD, an Albany, Ga., internist and president of the American College of Physicians, following the news about the mammogram findings from the task force said, "Physicians are quite divided about this.” Other physicians will likely continue to recommend annual mammograms for women beginning at age 40.

In the meantime, women are confused about what age they should have a mammogram. Breast cancer survivors will attest to the fact that earlier mammogram screening saves lives, making the issue quite personal. Ultimately, it is best to simply speak with your doctor about what is best for you. Mammogram screening prices vary and can be cost prohibitive if insurance companies decide not to pay for breast cancer screening until women age 50. For now, Medicare reimbursement remains the same, and those guidelines can be found at the American Cancer Society.