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New Mammogram Screening Guidelines Ill Advised, Many Say

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s recommendations to change protocols for routine mammograms has sent shockwaves through the medical community. That organization is recommending that guidelines change to state that women between the age of 50 and 74 years of age should receive biannual mammogram screenings. The change would essentially lift the recommendation that all women age 40 to 49 receive annual mammograms. This, in turn, could result in thousands of women in the vulnerable 40- to 49-year-old age group finding out their screenings are no longer covered by insurance.

While the stated intent of the recommendation is to lower what the task force sees as an “over-diagnosis” rate, many doctors fear threatening mammogram coverage will result in unnecessary deaths due to breast cancer going untreated. The American Cancer Society, in fact, has issued new screening recommendations that are built on the premise that annual screenings of women starting at age 40 saves lives.

Congress has delayed acting on the task force’s recommendation for a time. That means insurance companies under the ACA are still bound to pay for this life-saving screening. The hope is that the delay will give breast cancer experts a chance to review the recommendations and the process used to create them.

In the meantime, advocates of early screening are urging women to take advantage of mammogram coverage. It is estimated that 246,000 American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the United States this year. About 40,000 women will die from the disease. The fear of some breast cancer experts is that the diagnosis rate will drop if mammogram coverage is denied and mortality rates will spike.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force is also responsible for recent changes in the screening protocol for prostate cancer. The once commonly used prostate-specific antigen test has been taken off the table as a routine screen for many men since the task force raised concerns about its false positive rate.

How soon Congress will act on the breast cancer recommendations remains unclear. As it stands, all women age 40 and over are urged to undergo annual mammogram screenings. Early detection of breast cancer can and does save lives.

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