An independent panel appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services released a recommendation Monday that women should not have mammograms until their 50s and that subsequent mammograms should be performed every other year. According to the New York Times, the panel also said doctors should stop teaching women how to conduct self-exams because they are ineffective.
Many organizations including the American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology say they will continue to adhere to their current guidelines, which recommend beginning mammograms at 40 and continuing annually. Others, including the National Cancer Institute have said they will review their policies.
Daniel B. Kopans, a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School told the Washington Post , “Tens of thousands of lives are being saved by mammography screening, and these idiots want to do away with it. It’s crazy—unethical, really.”
Doctors are worried about the mixed message the conflicting guidelines will send. “Our concern is that as a result of that confusion, women may elect not to get screened at all. And that, to me, would be a serious problem,” Dr. Len Lichtenfeld told the Associated Press. Others are concerned about the impact the report may have on insurance providers’ coverage of mammograms. Congress currently requires Medicare to pay for annual mammograms, though Medicare could change its policy depending on federal direction. Except in Utah, private insurers are required to pay for mammograms for women in their 40s.
According to American Cancer Society statistics (see PDF), in 2009, approximately 40,170 women will die from breast cancer. The CDC calculates that mammograms can reduce breast cancer mortality by about 20 percent in women aged 40-49 and by 20-35 percent in women aged 50-69.