Women weigh new screening guidelines

    In November a federally appointed health panel revised its guidelines for breast cancer screening. The change kicked off a heated debate about what’s best for American women and the health system. WHYY stopped by a mobile mammography van to ask how the new standards are affecting women and their health decisions.

    In November a federally appointed health panel revised its guidelines for breast cancer screening. The change kicked off a heated debate about what’s best for American women and the health system. WHYY stopped by a mobile mammography van to ask how the new standards are affecting women and their health decisions.

    (Photo: A mammography technologist assists a patient / U.S. Navy photo)

    Listen:

    [audio:091211tescreen.mp3]

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that women with a low risk of breast cancer wait until age 50 to begin routine mammography screening. The American Cancer Society and Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center are among the health organizations that oppose that change. Both groups will continue to recommend annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

    Between exams, Fox Chase technologist Jill Elliott said her patients are asking a few more questions but plan to follow the advice they’ve heard for years.

    Elliott: Some women are worried that their insurance may stop. I’ve had women tell me, I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket if I have to, I’m not going to stop screening, but for the most part I don’t think that it’s really affected many people.

    It’s not clear yet whether private insurance companies will change their coverage policies. But the Obama administration has said that government health plans such as Medicaid will continue to cover routine mammograms for women starting at age 40.

    For women 50 to 74, the preventive task force suggests stretching out the time between screenings from one year to two years.

    State Representative Mike Gerber helped sponsor the screenings in Conshohocken. While waiting for her turn, 66-year-old Elaine Goodman said she’ll stick with the old advice.

    Goodman: I have it once a year, whether I need it or not, I think that every women should get it done.

    Many doctors and health organizations say they’ll follow the new standards.

    The change was unsettling for some and kicked off a debate about what’s best for American women and the health system.

    This is the third year that State Representative Gerber sponsored the mobile mammography van. Gerber’s legislative aide Shelly Waldman says the program will continue to welcome women age 40 to 49.

    Waldman: I do know that they have found — the previous years that we’ve had this — at least one or two people that have had to go back for repeat mammograms, and two of them have had breast cancer so we feel like we’ve saved two lives.

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