Recently, a report from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force blew the minds of doctors and patients alike. They reported that the current recommendations on mammograms from the American Cancer Society (ACS) are not sensible. The report has several sections that cause extreme concern. First of all, the new guidelines recommend that women do not begin getting mammograms until the age of 50, and even then, they only get them every other year. On top of that, the report goes far enough to say that self-breast examinations are completely pointless.
The American Cancer Society and numerous breast cancer specialists have come out strongly against these regulations, instead recommending that the current standard of preventative care recommended by the ACS should be followed. Currently, the ACS recommends that all women between the ages of 40 and 75 receive yearly mammograms and all post-adolescent women perform monthly self breast examinations in order to detect any changes quickly.
‘This [mammograms] is one screening test I recommend unequivocally, and would recommend to any woman 40 [years old] and over,” the society’s chief medical officer, Dr. Otis Brawley, said in a statement.
‘We’ve spent years educating women and the public to do this early detection and now we’ve just taken a 180 and turned the other way,” added Rep. Phillip Roe, R-Tenn, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist who stressed that some of the most aggressive cancers are found in younger patients. Many fear that this will lead to a much lower breast cancer survival rate, and that fear has strong factual backing. The aggressive cancers found in younger patients have nearly no chance of being caught in an early and easily treatable stage without the preventative care currently followed by women across the nation.
Many supporters of the newly released recommendation cite overtreatment and therefore overspending as the reason that new recommendations should be followed. This logic, however, does not coincide with the facts. It is true that many biopsies performed as a result of concerning mammography findings turn out to be false alarms. It is not a large enough number, though, to forget about the cancers that are caught by mammography. In 7 to 10 women who are biopsied from these tests, 1 will have cancer. Are we really willing to risk the lives of over 10 percent of women with concerning findings? Supporters say that these new recommendations will save money on the ‘unnecessary” mammograms performed each year on patients found to be cancer-free. Dr. Cynara Coomer, a breast surgeon at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City strongly disagrees with this new report for these reasons and more. Coomer notes that over 40 percent of her breast cancer patients are under age 50, and many of them were diagnosed from abnormal mammography findings.
Not only will we be not catching many of those cancers, we will also be making treatment much more difficult. As noted earlier, the most aggressive forms of breast cancer are most common in young patients. By not catching these cancers early, the treatment we will need to subject these women to will not only be significantly more costly but significantly more risky for the patient involved.
‘If we are diagnosing women at a later stage, the cost of taking care of those women will far outweigh the cost that we’ll be saving by decreasing the number of screening mammograms,” Coomer said.
Many will not be able to be saved.
Rogers is a member of the class of 2012.