Women in their 40s should stop routinely having annual mammograms and older women should cut back to one scheduled exam every other year, an influential federal task force has concluded, challenging the use of one of the most common medical tests.
In its first reevaluation of breast cancer screening since 2002, the independent government-appointed panel recommended the changes, citing evidence that the potential harm to women having annual exams beginning at age 40 outweighs the benefit.
Coming amid a highly charged national debate over health-care reform and simmering suspicions about the possibility of rationing medical services, the recommendations immediately became enveloped in controversy.
“We’re not saying women shouldn’t get screened. Screening does saves lives,” said Diana B. Petitti, vice chairman of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which released the recommendations Monday in a paper being published in Tuesday’s Annals of Internal Medicine. “But we are recommending against routine screening. There are important and serious negatives or harms that need to be considered carefully.”
Several patient advocacy groups and many breast cancer experts welcomed the new guidelines, saying they represent a growing recognition that more testing, exams and treatment are not always beneficial and, in fact, can harm patients. Mammograms produce false-positive results in about 10 percent of cases, causing anxiety and often prompting women to undergo unnecessary follow-up tests, sometimes-disfiguring biopsies and unneeded treatment, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
But the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology and other experts condemned the change, saying the benefits of routine mammography have been clearly demonstrated and play a key role in reducing the number of mastectomies and the death toll from one of the most common cancers.
“Tens of thousands of lives are being saved by mammography screening, and these idiots want to do away with it,” said Daniel B. Kopans, a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School. “It’s crazy — unethical, really.”
The new guidelines also recommend against teaching women to do regular self-exams and concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend that doctors do the exams or to continue routine mammograms beyond age 74.
But it’s not about rationing! It’s about saving women from temporary anxiety over false positives. And if other women have to die of breast cancer to prevent that anxiety, well, that’s a small price to pay.
On the bright side, the more women who die in their 40’s and 50’s, the less underfunded Social Security and Medicare will be.
It shows how the government run health care will cut costs. “Experts” will periodically issue new findings…”Hold off on that Mammogram”, “Prenatal care Overrated”, “Broken Bones, No Problem: How I Learned To Live With My Arm Askew”, ” Jaundiced and Lovin It”.
Sounds about right.
Update: Ed Morrissey points out that just a few short months ago “experts” were sounding off alarm bells about the ‘slight annual decrease’ being reported among women getting mammograms in their 40s, and that the same “independent panel” now pushing for women to stop having them done in their 40s still at that time pushed for mammograms every 1 to 2 years for women at that age. What’s changed? Hmmmm….