Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

Woman undergoing a mammogram of the right breastImage via Wikipedia
A government panel, the US Preventive Services Task Force, has released new guidelines for breast cancer screening.  Previously, it was recommended that women receive annual mammograms beginning at age 40.  The task force now recommends that women that are not considered "high risk" should wait until the age of 50 to begin screening, and then only every two years.

The new guidelines drew immediate criticism from the American Cancer Society.  Breast cancer is currently second to lung cancer for cancer deaths of American women.  It seems logical to me, that like most cancers, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the better the chance of survival.

The panel argues that women under the age of 50 are prone to more "false positive" results from mammograms.  This leads to "unnecessary" biopsies.  I checked the Center for Disease Control website, and their statistics show that a woman that is 30 years old has a .44% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, and a nearly 2% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 20 years (before the recommended 50 year age to begin screening.)  Likewise, a 40 year old woman has a 1.5% chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years.

Actress Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.  Kathleen Reardon posted an article on the Huffington Post blog stating she would be dead today had she not discovered a lump in her breast.  She was 32 at the time.  Under these new guidelines, these women and many others would not have had their breast cancer detected early enough to be treated successfully. 

I have two major concerns with these new guidelines.  First, would be the health and well being of the nearly 2% of women under the age of 50 who are likely to develop breast cancer that will not be detected under the new guidelines.  The second would be the word "government" in the government panel that has developed these new guidelines.  Should we be concerned that this would be a precursor of care under a government run health program?  The panel says you don't need to start screening for breast cancer until you are 50 so we are not going to cover it until then.

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  1. Dickster,the only thing that I see with these recomendations is the the health care industry will adopt these recomendations and a lot of women will be dying from breast cancer.My sister had a positive on her exam angd it was caught soon enought that she was able to save herself from breast cancer.something that took one of our grandmothers(Mom's mother).

  2. I agree. It is a major concern. There are plenty of women that would not be diagnosed under these guidelines and for many of them it will be too late. I had a close friend who was in her 30's and was fortunate enough to catch a mass early enough.



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