Controversial mammo guidelines to be scrutinized by HELP committee

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A hearing is set to be held in regard to the recent U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised recommendations concerning mammography screening for women, led by Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  

The recommendations, which in part suggest women ages 40-49 and those over the age of 74 should not receive mammography screening and women ages 50-74 should be screened every other year as opposed to annual screenings, were presented by the government funded USPSTF, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services on Nov 16.

This week, 22 Senate members wrote a bipartisan letter to Harkin, asking the committee to investigate the revised guidelines, which contradict what both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American College of Radiology (ACR) advise, said the Senators.

According to the Senators, the revised guidelines are a “dramatic departure from the task force’s preceding recommendations concerning mammography screening.”

“These recommendations, which have been widely criticized by patients and doctors alike, could prove devastating for women at risk of breast cancer,” said the Senators. “The American people deserve to know more about how this task force came to its controversial findings.”

The USPSTF includes representatives from health insurers, but no mammography or oncology authorities, said the Senators. As a result, the ACR is planning to have a representative from the college testify at the hearing with information pertaining to the effect on cancer care that may result from the new guidelines.

“The ACS estimates that over 40,000 Americans will die from breast cancer in 2009, and breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. Breast cancer screenings and advances in technology have reduced the mortality rate of patients who develop this devastating disease, but early detection of breast cancer is absolutely critical,” concluded the Senators.