Breast cancer exams: Early tests save lives

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 4:30pm
By: Letters to the ...

With what smells of healthcare rationing, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reversed policies implemented in 2002 regarding mammography, and their new recommendations will take us backward instead of forward in the fight against breast cancer.

This is a cause close to my heart. Like many, I know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. My mother is a 15-year survivor and at age 31, I went through my own cancer scare.

While the new recommendations exclude women who have breast cancer in their family or who are considered high risk, it will affect women who have no history in their family and that group makes up 75 percent of breast cancer cases.

The task force recommends that doctors not teach women about self-exams and women should delay mammograms until age 50 and then continue with biennial screenings between the ages of 50 and 74. They concluded that women over 75 didn’t benefit from continuous screening.

The members of the task force say their data is based on potential harm from over screening and that more tests can trigger unnecessary further tests and cause extreme anxiety. As if women are such delicate creatures that we can’t handle a little anxiety.

Dr. Dianna Petittie, vice chairwoman of the panel, said, “The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s.”

Having been through a scare myself, let me tell you I’ll take a few tests and the anxiety that comes with it for the piece of mind knowing that lump was benign.

Liberals keep trying to tell us that preventive care will save us money. They argue that if more people have access to preventive care, then we can cut our healthcare costs. Are mammograms not preventive care? Wouldn’t it be better to spend the couple of hundred dollars on a preventive test that will save lives instead of waiting until the cancer is advanced?

Opponents of the bill like Dr. Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health, said that more women will die from breast cancer as a result of these new changes. We may save money, but we won’t save lives.

The American Cancer Society and The Susan G. Komen Foundation have announced they are sticking with the age 40 guidelines. Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society said that all the evidence they have states that the benefits outweigh the risks of annual mammograms beginning at age 40.

The website said they were “deeply troubled by both the analysis that led to these proposed guideline changes and the effect these proposed changes would have on the health and lives of women.” These guidelines mean that women will risk being diagnosed at later stages when the outcome may not be as good and treatment too late, particularly younger women.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a breast cancer survivor, said, “They [the task force] acknowledge more women between 40 and 49 will die.” She continues by saying, “It’s patronizing to assume that women are going to get hysterical over information.”

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 40 and 49 are more likely to have an aggressive form of cancer and are usually diagnosed at later stages.

The American Cancer Society says the task force is basically telling women that screening between ages 40 and 49 saves lives, just not enough of them. That it is more important to save some 1,900 women every year from anxiety rather than saving the additional 3 percent of women each year who will die from breast cancer under the new guidelines. Losing one life is not acceptable just to save money.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist for 26 years said that the new guidelines could be seen as a form of rationing. Insurance companies could seize upon these recommendations to deny coverage for women under 50. “Early detection is hugely important,” Gingrey said. No woman wants to find a lump and no woman wants to find a lump when it’s too late but finding it early is key to survival.

Mammography is not perfect, but it is the best test we have today to detect lumps early. What we need is to improve technology, not reduce women’s access to it. If Obamacare makes it out of Congress, advances in technology will come to a standstill.

Is this what America has come to? If these guidelines are followed, billions of dollars will be saved but at what cost to women? Doctors should tell women when they need to have a mammogram, not the government.

Laura Lunsford

Fayetteville, Ga.

login to post comments