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New advice: scale back on breast cancer screening

Monday, November 16th, 2009

A federal task force has issued new guidelines for mammography and self breast exams. They go against the advice women have heard for years, which was to begin annual mammograms at age 40. Locally, some radiologists are saying: Let’s stick with the old approach.


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The US Preventive Services Task Force finds that some screening protocols don’t outweigh the cost, anxiety, and unnecessary medical care that go along with them. The tax force recommends that women at low risk of cancer start bi-annual mammograms at age 50.

Diana Petitti is vice chair of the task force.

Very little benefit is lost from waiting to be screened first in the 50s and that the harms of screening women in their 40s are common. That is, that there are a lot of false positive and all the attendant anxiety that comes from having a false positive test.

Some radiologists in the region are not so willing to scale back on screening. Emily Conant is chief of breast imaging at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

We know that screening has an impact. It decreases breast cancer deaths. I think if you look at it from an individual woman’s stand point, is we would all like to be the one who if we do have to get cancer we’re diagnosed early where we have the greatest options.

Kathy Evers is the director of mammography at Fox Chase Cancer Center. She and Conant will continue to urge women to get mammograms every year at age 40.

Evers: I think there’s been a lot of discussion over the years about mammography, about the plusses and minuses of mammography. But I think what we need to keep in mind is mammography is the only test that has been demonstrated to decrease mortality from breast cancer.

The task force says it is not anti-screening, but in favor of more discussion about screening’s potential harms.


  • Mary says:

    Perhaps this “task force” accepted money from the insurance companies to make this ridiculous recommendation

  • Who is getting paid off here?

  • I am distressed to hear that this task force has recommended this drastic change in guidelines. All I can say is that my breast cancer was caught early on a mammogram and it saved my life when I was 48 years old. I would hate to think what could have happened if I didn’t get that mammogram until I was 50. I have to say I am angry about this recommendation and really feel that the members of this task force need to have their heads examined.

  • Jayne Kieffer says:

    I think this task force is nuts. They say mammograms save lives, but not enough. Excuse me? Did I read that right? And self-examination is of no benefit? Wrong. I know several women who found their lumps. Most breast cancer victims are under 50. Wonder what this is all about – like maybe now the insurance companies won’t pay for the mammograms?? How will they get around not having to pay for chemotherapy, radiation and the surguries that will be required because the cancer wasn’t caught in time. I’m shocked by this ‘new finding’. I’m even more shocked to read that the vice chair of the task force is a woman (well, I guess she’s a woman).

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