Mammography advice appears to be benign

Even though the government has backed away from a recommendation issued earlier this week that women should postpone mammograms until age 50, local hospitals say they don’t intend to change their policies, which is generally to begin screening at age 40.

And, despite the widespread national media attention the announcement received, local women don’t appear to be too concerned about when they should be screened.

Memorial Health System spokesman Chris Valentine said the hospital would not recommend that women delay getting mammography.

He also said the hospital call center had not received any calls from woman concerned about the issue.

Kaiser Permanente Colorado, a health maintenance organization, said the same thing.

“Kaiser Permanente Colorado regularly examines our clinical practice guidelines to assess any new evidence or recommendations,” spokeswoman C.J. Moore said. “Our current guidelines and strategies are already in line with the recent recommendations.”

The United States Preventive Services Task Force made headline news – and raised outcry from cancer organizations – when it recommended moving the age women receive mammography from 40 to 50, and also recommended women stop doing self-exams for cancer.

Kaiser’s advises that women at age 40 should discuss with their physicians when to start screening for breast cancer based on personal and family risk, as well as their individual preference. At age 50, women are urged to screen for breast cancer every one or two years.

“We believe that breast cancer screening decisions should be individualized and made together by our Kaiser Permanente physicians and our members, taking into account a woman’s personal and family history.”

However, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services oncologist Jason Huff said he could understand the task force’s reasoning.

“If you look at the science, it seems a lot of women are getting false positives, which lead to biopsies,” he said. “That can be damaging and stressful. That’s their reasoning. The recommendations regarding self-exams were surprising, but again, their reasoning was that few doctors take time to teach women to do it the right way.”

Huff also notes that frequent mammograms lead to treatment for slow-growing cancers that pose no threat to their lives.

“Women are getting treated for cancers they will die with, as opposed to die from,” he said. “That’s a major difference, and as mammography improves, it is a problem.”

Still, Huff agrees with Kaiser’s assessment: women should discuss options with their doctors, and then decide when to start screening for breast cancer.

“Early detection is important, and it can save lives,” he said. “So the decision should be made on an individual level – when to start screening.”

One Response to Mammography advice appears to be benign

  1. Does this attempt by ‘government’ to impose its views on the medical profession perhaps have anything to do with trying to cut costs to help pay for the huge expenses which will probably be generated by the new so called Health Care?
    Makes one wonder!

    S Martin
    November 22, 2009 at 12:54 pm