New mammogram advice raises questions, concerns

November 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
There is confusion and questions over new advice on breast cancer screening. For years doctors have recommended that women over 40 get annual mammograms, but now a government task force says in most cases women should wait until they're 50.

There definitely was some outrage as soon as the word came out on Monday. Some people are worried women will die because of this advice, but some say if you look at the science, this does make practical sense.

Mammograms could do more harm than good. That's the finding of a government panel of doctors who say the tests can create too many false alarms and unnecessary biopsies. They are recommending that women start getting them at 50, not 40, and then every two years -- not every year.

"Screening every two years captures most of the benefit in terms of reducing breast cancer mortality, while decreasing the harm," says Dr. Diana Petitti, M.D., with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

"I was upset --about to go through the roof," says Margie Cherry, a breast cancer survivor.

Cherry of San Francisco is a breast cancer survivor who strongly disagrees with the new recommendations. The American Cancer Society also disagrees with this latest health message.

"We're going to lose women from breast cancer. They will die as a result of that and the task force is saying 'That's OK,'" says Len Lichtenfeld, from the American Cancer Society.

"We at Breast Cancer Action were delighted with the findings today," says Joyce Bichler from Breast Cancer Action.

Breast Cancer Action is an education and advocacy organization that believes people rely too much on mammograms.

"We've been sold a bill of goods that if you have mammography and you go every year you're doing the right thing and you don't have to worry about breast cancer. Unfortunately, that's been oversold," says Bichler.

The panel also said breast self-examinations are worthless and women shouldn't bother with them. Try telling that to Cherry who found her three tumors.

"In the circles that I'm in, most of the women found their own lumps," says Cherry.

Doctors will be the ones who need to decide which way to steer their patients and one ABC7 spoke with says she will stick to the old recommendations until she can learn more about this new advice.

"These kinds of recommendations have to be carefully scrutinized and individualized to your own patient population," says Karen Callen, M.D., an OBGYN.

Another concern is how this will impact insurance of mammograms, but an industry group official says coverage likely won't change because of these new guidelines.


Load Comments