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New Mammogram Screening Guidelines Could Prove Fatal

The United States Preventative Services Task Force’s recommendation to change breast cancer screening guidelines has some in the medical profession very worried. That organization would like to see annual screening recommendation start times change from 40 to about the age of 50. In addition, it is recommending biannual – not annual – screening for women ages 50 to 74. The results of such changes, some say, would be thousands of unnecessary deaths as women who would have otherwise been diagnosed earlier find their cancer is not detected until it reaches a more advanced stage. While Congress has yet to act on the task force’s recommendations, fears that it might have some in the medical profession imploring women and their families to make lawmakers aware of their concerns.

If the new recommendations are enacted by Congress, mammograms would still be available for women. The caveat, however, is that some women ages 40-49 would have to pay for them personally since insurance might not cover annual exams. Women ages 50 to 74 might find themselves having to pay, as well, if they prefer to go in for annual exams that many healthcare providers recommend instead of the task force’s recommended biannual exams.

While the task force cites over-diagnosis as the reasons behind its recommendations, studies have supported the current screening protocols. One study, for example, found that routine annual screening starting at the age of 40 has cut breast cancer deaths by about a third. What’s more, when the use of mammography screening was introduced in the mid-1980s on a widespread basis, the death cancer rate dropped by 36 percent.

Mammograms are not perfect, but they have saved thousands of lives by enabling doctors to detect and treat breast cancer earlier. While the fate of the screening recommendations remains unclear at this time, women may want to discuss the topic with their healthcare providers and let their representatives in congress know where they stand on the issue.

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