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Mammograms; Understanding the Recommendations

Posted by amykr on November 19, 2009

Yesterday the US Preventative Services Task Force recommended that mammograms and breast self examination teaching be limited. The recommendation was to move screens from age 40 to age 50 for initial mammograms and to decrease them from yearly to every two years. They also felt that breast self exams should not be taught.

This task force is made up of volunteers to evaluate new and existing procedures and make sure they are used optimally. They do not have legislative power. They do not affect policy. They review research and make suggestions.

Katherine Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, was quick to say that Medicare and Medicaid will not be adopting these recommendations. As long as a patient’s doctor orders the procedure these health plans will pay. Other organizations such as The American Cancer Society stated that they do not agree with this recommendation and that they are encouraging women to talk to their physicians, having yearly mammograms at age 40 and clinical breast examinations yearly.

The big question that is still out there is how many private insurance companies will adopt this recommendation. This 14 person panel has reviewed information from specific studies. This group is made of people in research, medicine and business who used certain studies. They are not specialists in the field of cancer and there may be other studies that were not used. They also take into account cost effectiveness. “The most recent data show us that approximately 17 percent of breast cancer deaths occurred in women who were diagnosed in their 40s, and 22 percent occurred in women diagnosed in their 50s.”

Research is still going on to find more effective screening for breast cancer. New digital mammography allows for a better screening. Ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs are allowing for better and more noninvasive follow up for any abnormality. All of this has helped to decrease the death rate of breast cancer patients.

This announcement many cause concerns but it also brings up the necessity to look for other ways of effective screening. It is ultimately up to the patient and her physician to make the final choice of what would be the best choice.

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