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Task Force Opposes Routine Mammograms for Women Age 40-49

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CNN: Women in their 40s should not get routine mammograms for early detection of breast cancer, according to updated guidelines set forth by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Before having a mammogram, women ages 40 to 49 should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of the test, and then decide if they want to be screened, according to the task force.

For women ages 50 to 74, it recommends routine mammography screenings every two years. Risks and benefits for women age 75 and above are unknown, it said.

The group's previous recommendation was for routine screenings every year or two for women age 40 and older.

The task force is composed of 16 health care experts, none of whom are oncologists. The group reviews medical data and bases recommendations on effectiveness and risks involved.

"All we are saying is, at age 40, a woman should make an appointment with her doctor and have a conversation about the benefits and harms of having a mammography now versus waiting to age 50," said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the task force.

While roughly 15 percent of women in their 40s detect breast cancer through mammography, many other women experience false positives, anxiety, and unnecessary biopsies as a result of the test, according to data.

But the updated guidelines don't come without controversy.

"With its new recommendations, the [task force] is essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives; just not enough of them," Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

The organization says it looked at virtually the same data as the task force but came to a different conclusion. "Breast cancer is a serious health problem facing adult women, and mammography is part of our solution beginning at age 40 for average-risk women," it says. It recommends annual exams beginning at that age.

Experts at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center also voiced concern and said they aren't changing their screening protocol. "We disagree with their conclusions," Dr. Therese Bevers said of the task force. "You have to screen more women. It's the value we put on zero women dying."

The task force acknowledged that mammograms can save lives and fear their new guidelines may be misinterpreted. "We aren't against screening women in their 40s, we just don't think it should be routine," Petitti said.

But some doctors say the language isn't clear and the confusion may turn women away from being screened at all.

Others fear insurance coverage of mammograms could be dropped based on the new recommendations.

"Certainly mammography does pick up things at [age] 45 that would have been much more serious in five years," said Dr. Anne Wallace, director of the University of California-San Diego Moores Breast Cancer Program. "What worries me is if insurance companies won't allow women who want early detection in this age group to be screened."

Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for American Health Insurance Plans, says insurance providers may revisit how they measure health plan's performance based on the updated guidelines, but adds coverage is unlikely to be dropped. "Most of our member companies look at [the task force's guidelines] as the standard. But if you are in your 40s and have a discussion about risk and benefits and your doctor gives you a referral slip, then that generally is going to be covered."

While cancer experts may not all agree with the task force's guidelines, the bottom line for women regardless of age is to discuss the pros and cons with their physician and make a screening choice based on individual needs.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the United States. This year, nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Read more hot stories Moms Are Talking About.

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
April November 17, 2009, 7:41 AM

Does this task force have any ties to Obama and his socialist healthcare plan? I heard it did. Yet one more reason to say no to government run healthcare. Don’t tell me when to get a mammogram. Next thing they’ll be doing is telling us all our only option is just to have them cut off if we find anything.

chris November 17, 2009, 8:23 AM

Most of the women I know that has had breast cancer discovered it thru a mammogram in their 40’s. As far as unnessary biopsies and false postitives and the anxiety that comes with that, I would still rather go through that then find out too late and have stage 4 cancer. Or is that the point???

Fearmongering Again November 17, 2009, 8:27 AM


Did you verify that it had something to with the new healthcare proposal or did you hear it? I’ve heard that the neighbor is sleeping with her mechanic. In other words find out for yourself before believing rumors.

People are so lazy, they let Twitter, Fox News and MSNBC both polarizing on both sides of the debate, make up their minds for them.

What kills me is the same people yelling hands off my health care will be screaming “Give me my Medicare.”

How about you discuss with your doctor when you need a mammogram and then if the insurance company says no you can say “Boy I’m glad I was wrong about the Healthcare Reform, the insurance company would have normally denied my claim and I’d be stuck with a “pre-existing condition. Now I can move to the public option and get the same care and benefits over [insert company here] or go to a new provider who cannot deny me because of my ‘pre-existing condition.”

Why people argue to shoot themselves in the foot is beyond me…

Polly November 17, 2009, 9:09 AM

They found my breast cancer at 46 while having a routine mammogram. I had not felt a lump (I am terrible at my own exams) and there was NO history of breast cancer anywhere in my family.

Shannon November 17, 2009, 3:59 PM

am 39 years old and would be dead if I had not received a mammogram at age 35. I was diagnosed with stage 2 ,grade 5 breast cancer at 35 years old. It was very aggressive and had already spread to my lymph nodes. Over 11,000 women under the age of 40 are diagnosed every year in the United States with breast cancer, that’s 11,000, Moms, Daughters, Aunts, Wives, and Friends….I started a website foundation named Pink Outlaw about a year ago and our motto is that “We Will Not Conform” and this is what I will continue to preach. I refused to conform to cancer and am an avenger for all those affected. Robbing cancer of its power is my daily goal. This new news is sickening. I feel almost as nauseted as when receiving chemo but am up for the fight. Please let your voices be heard. Mammograms are not perfect tests but they do save lives, I am fortunately living proof.

Sankar Limbu November 17, 2009, 9:02 PM

Hello! I’m just trying to send comment.

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