By Lisa Sheppard MD
In 2015, the American Cancer Society estimated 231, 840 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. 40,290 of them will die. Even more alarming is that number is expected to surge. The National Institutes of Health predicts the number of U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer could increase by as much as 50 percent within the next 15 years. Many of these deaths can be prevented with regular mammograms and early detection. So why aren’t they?
Ask the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The Task Force, a government appointed volunteer panel of doctors in Family Practice and internal medicine interested in preventive care and evidence-based medicine regularly review the “scientific data” about breast cancer screening. The group recently posted a draft recommendation that the benefit of mammography screening increases with age, with the 50 to 74 age group benefiting the most. Yet they recommend women over 50 only get a mammogram every other year till the age of 70.
The Task Force found that mammography screening may not be necessary at all for women in their 40s. This means ObamaCare and Medicare will no longer cover annual screenings beginning 2016.
Is the USPSTF looking to increase the breast cancer death rate? What is their reasoning behind the recommendation? Well, the experts on the USPSTF say annual mammograms put women at higher risk for false positive findings. That is, a radiologist sees something on the screening mammogram exam that may be suspicious and calls the woman back for additional imaging only to find there is no cancer. The USPSTF states that screening that results in a false positive causes stress and potentially puts a woman’s life at risk due to unnecessary tests.
What tests are so horrific to allow so many cancers to go undiagnosed? Additional mammogram images? A breast Ultrasound? In rare cases a Biopsy or an MRI? A study reported in 2014 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, disagrees with the USPSTF’s conclusion about the magnitude of the issue. It found that while false positive results do cause anxiety and stress, the anxiety is short term and doesn’t affect the woman’s overall health and wellbeing, and women who received false positive results said they would continue to have mammograms in the future. The
USPSTF itself notes in its statement that the risk to a woman’s life due to diagnostic follow up is very small.
When the Task Force issued similar guidelines back in 2009, it took an act of Congress to ensure mammography coverage for women younger than 50. This new legislation eliminates private insurance coverage and Medicare coverage of annual mammograms for women over 40. Is an act of Congress again necessary to preserve these lifesaving procedures? Unfortunately unlike last time there has been very little information in the media about this.
I am very concern about the future of women’s breast health and have started a petition on Move on to raise awareness What can you do? Sign the petition and forward to your friends and family. Be heard. Call or email your Congressman. [Find yours here]
Call your insurance provider.
Push for annual mammography coverage for women in their 40s under the Affordable Care Act.
Save your own life and those you love.
In the meantime, I encourage every woman to learn about your risk for breast cancer. Ask relatives if they know of anyone, male or female, in the family who has had breast cancer. Ask your physician if you have any other risk factors, and, if you’re under 40, whether you should get a base line mammogram. If you’re over 40, get to know your body and get a screening mammogram this year. It is a covered benefit under the Affordable Care Act and will not cost you anything. All insurance plans pay for screening mammography without a co-pay or deductible.
For further information, call PINK Breast Center of Paterson at 973-977-6662, or Flemington at 908-284-2300.