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.
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.