Tuesday, Dec. 08, 2009

New Mammography Guidelines

It usually takes a Washington scandal to put the discussion of women's breasts on political agendas, but in November it was a routine update of breast-cancer-screening guidelines by a government panel of medical advisers that stirred up a furor. Based on new calculations weighing the risks and benefits of routine screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's new recommendations advised women to begin routine mammograms at age 50 instead of 40 and to switch from yearly to biennial screenings; it also advised women to eliminate breast self-exams altogether. Doctors, patients, cancer advocacy groups and politicians vehemently opposed the rolled-back recommendations, fearing they were a harbinger of health care rationing or that insurance companies would be tempted to stop covering screening in younger women. That concern was put to rest in December, however, when the Senate cast its first votes on health care reform, approving an amendment to guarantee coverage of mammograms and preventive screening tests.