Mammogram mayhem

Many are angry with new guidelines—just do what’s best for you

Doctors and patients across the United States were shocked—and many angry—last week when the U.S. Preventive Task Force recommended that women ages 40-50 no longer get yearly mammograms. The recommendation came, according to the task force, after mounting evidence that mammograms for women in their 40s are not particularly helpful and produce more false positives than actual positives.

For the 15 percent of women who survive breast cancer because of early detection via mammogram, this is scary news. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, when universal health care is one of the hottest topics of debate. Is this a tactic to let insurance companies (and the government) off the hook in paying for younger women’s mammograms? Some say yes; others argue they’ll still be covered, especially when recommended by a doctor. A recent LA Times article quoted a 2004 study that said most women would continue to get the test done even if their doctor recommended against it.

Most of us know at least one woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer before her 50th birthday. Some of them caught it themselves, with self-exams (the task force also recommended doctors no longer teach patients how to do self-exams), or because of their annual mammograms.

Our advice: Keep doing what you feel is right for you. And talk with your physician. He or she will know what’s best. As of now, there is no threat of insurance companies cutting off coverage. The task force’s findings should be kept as a reminder, however, that there is a risk of a false-positive result—so, if nothing else, knowing that going in should ease the anxiety.