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New mammogram advice raises questions

November 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A government task force says that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s.Women on the streets of downtown Los Angeles are lining up on both sides of the mammogram debate. Half think waiting until age 50 to get a mammogram is outrageous.

"Prevention is the best medicine," said mammogram supporter Shawn McNally. "Why not just go check it out instead of waiting and being told that you have it."

Others think getting mammograms later in life and less often makes perfect sense.

"I'd rather do it every two years rather than every year," said Linda Griego, who supports the new guideline. "It would save the cost on insurance."

It's the same mixed reaction among experts. Some say current guidelines advising women to have annual mammograms starting at age 40 does more harm than good.

"There were women that would undergo false positive exams, unnecessary biopsies and even be treated for cancers that would never have harmed them," said Lombardi Cancer Center's Dr. Jeanne Mandelblatt.

Another con is the cumulative exposure to radiation. A government panel is now saying women should not get mammograms until they turn 50 and they only need them once every two years.

"It's totally ridiculous. I may not be politically correct, but I think that this is really about money and politics," said Dr. Peter Jockich, Rush University. "It's about the beginning of rationing care."

Among the groups angry over the new recommendations is the American Cancer Society.

"We're going to lose women from breast cancer," said Len Lichestein, the American Cancer Society. "They will die as a result of that. The task force is saying it's OK," said

Many women say cost will play a big factor in whether they get yearly mammograms. So for them, it depends on what insurance companies do. But their doctor's recommendation is also most important.

"You don't want to have unnecessary radiation if it is not necessary," said Kay Huangbo. "I usually go by what the scientists say. I guess I have to study the research and make a decision to what is right.

Despite the new guidelines, most oncologists agree that women who have a family history of breast cancer should get mammograms starting at an early age. The current recommendation for these women to start getting mammograms is at age 35.


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