Task force shouldn’t dismiss breast health

Here is an important message most women in America have heard for the majority of their lives: Get mammograms every one to two years in order to detect any possible abnormalities in breast tissue that could lead to cancer.

That dependable creed, however, has been shattered by a recent recommendation by the US Preventive Services Task Force.

Andrew Laskowski | Daily Trojan

Andrew Laskowski | Daily Trojan

On Monday the USPSTF announced that women under the age of 50 do not require regular breast exams, and that only women between the ages of 50 and 75 should be checked once every two years.

The report also stated that there is not sufficient evidence to give counsel to women over the age of 75 (you know, because they’re going to die soon anyway). The panel also parlously recommended against self-examination, giving the weak excuse that teaching women to check themselves won’t ultimately save lives.

Not surprisingly, the announcement has been met with outrage and protests from patients and doctors alike.

After all, women in their 40s, who are now being told they do not require regular exams, account for at least a quarter of breast cancer diagnoses.

The task force has announced that they have no plans to adjust their guidelines any time soon.

After re-evaluating scientific research on the overall success of mammography in preventing breast cancer-related deaths, the USPSTF has decided that women should consult a physician if they are concerned about their vulnerability to cancer and make a decision accordingly about how often they should be tested.

The recommendation does not apply to women at high risk for the disease, who should still be tested once a year.

One would think that protecting the lives and well-being of American women would be an important focus of a government department dedicated to preventing diseases. In fact, it ought to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Americans are having to fight their leaders in order to defend their own health.

Health insurance companies are probably celebrating with champagne right now, because they have yet another physical expense to cross off their list of covered services.

No doubt many were vying for a less expensive “recommendation” to be set in place, as seems to be the current trend in American health care. If a procedure will take considerable time or money — in this case, anywhere between $80 and $200 without insurance — those in charge would prefer to sidestep it altogether. Only if a doctor deems a mammogram absolutely necessary will they recommend that a woman be regularly examined.

This new ordinance could prove to be disastrous to women’s health. We have made substantial advances in detecting breast cancer early on with the use of regular mammogram examinations. In fact, the mortality rate for breast cancer has dropped 30 percent since 1990.

Thankfully, some insurance companies and Medicare administrators — who usually follow the task force’s guidelines closely — are choosing to continue to pay for the procedure, although it is unclear how long they will be able to resist the health panel.

So what happens when mammograms are pushed aside by health care leaders, dismissed as an unnecessary form of self-maintenance? The health of the general public will be at stake.

It is unacceptable for mammograms to be demoted to the same health plane as herbal supplements. Why would women voluntarily schedule those uncomfortable appointments that require their breasts to be pulled, pressed and scanned when they are not even endorsed by health care officials?

Granted, mammogram exams are not perfect. While they indisputably help save lives, they are not 100 percent reliable.

Nevertheless, more than 192,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected in the United States this year, along with 40,000 deaths. Early detection is the best way to prevent these fatalities.

We should be focusing on perfecting mammogram technology, not scrutinizing its obvious worth. It is irresponsible to give women conflicting messages that could endanger their lives.

Amy Baack is a senior majoring in cinema-television production.

4 replies
  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    The federal government is interested in cutting costs, not in saving lives. Preventative medicine like mammograms challenges this goal in two ways. First, preventative medicine costs money. Second, it saves lives. If you’re Barack Obama or Kathleen Sebelius, and your goal is to funnel as much taxpayer money to abortions as possible, then you’d rather have a lot of dead middle aged women than a lot of old ladies needing money from Medicare for doctor visits, prescriptions, and those electric scooters you see on the commercials.

    So it’s time for us to all bend over and get ready for Obamacare.

  2. Christopher Ganiere
    Christopher Ganiere says:

    Cutting the number of tests is one way to cut costs. Our president has spent many prepared speeches decrying the over testing in the health care system. If the voters are ready to hand over health care responsibility to the federal government, we will have less access to tests. We may have limits so low that we’ll have waiting periods – even if you are willing to pay out of pocket. Witness both the British and Canadian health care systems (our president has praised both). The benefit of fewer tests is two fold, lower up front costs, and lower costs to age based federal welfare programs (Social Security and Medicare). We can lobby for free health care, but the costs will arise, if not in monetary means, then in loss of life, or in quality of life,

  3. John
    John says:

    “One would think that protecting the lives and well-being of American women would be an important focus of a government department dedicated to preventing diseases. In fact, it ought to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Americans are having to fight their leaders in order to defend their own health.”

    This is a terrible straw-man argument. Here is the group’s stated position on why they choose the new recommendations, from the New York Times article about it (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/health/17cancer.html?partner=rss&emc=rss):

    “Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chairwoman of the task force and a professor of biomedical informatics at Arizona State University, said the guidelines were based on new data and analyses and were aimed at reducing the potential harm from overscreening.

    While many women do not think a screening test can be harmful, medical experts say the risks are real. A test can trigger unnecessary further tests, like biopsies, that can create extreme anxiety. And mammograms can find cancers that grow so slowly that they never would be noticed in a woman’s lifetime, resulting in unnecessary treatment.”

    You managed to completely ignore the rationale behind the decision, and instead choose to attack it with equivocations like “it is unacceptable for mammograms to be demoted to the same health plane as herbal supplements”. Furthermore, you then insinuated that protecting the “lives and well-being of American women” is not an important focus of the group, even though the guidelines are specifically intended to do just that.

    You wasted an opportunity with this piece to do some real research and public education about over-testing and over-treatment in medicine. Increases in testing have of course led to greater diagnosis and successful treatment of cancers, but the dark side is that it is indeed possible to test too much, to the point that the risks associated with testing outweigh the benefits. I wish you had taken the opportunity to explain that concept as a counterpoint to your strong feelings on the subject, instead of writing such a one-sided piece.

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