A government panel sparked a controversy by saying Monday that women should start getting mammograms at 50, instead of 40, and then get them every two years instead of annually. The group also said doctors should stop teaching patients how to do self-exams for breast cancer, because the practice hasn't been shown to reduce cancer deaths. The panel — United States Preventive Services Task Force — said early testing can trigger unnecessary tests and scare patients by detecting cancers that pose no risk. Some doctors think it's dangerous to cut back on screening. Would cutting back on mammograms and self-exams put women's lives at risk? (Watch NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman discuss the changing wisdom for breast exams)
This will kill people: "If I had waited until I was 50 to get a mammogram, I would be dead," says Stacy Martello in FightPink.org. "I was 42 when I was diagnosed," and had no option but a mastectomy even with early diagnosis. Yes, most women with life-threatening breast cancer are over 50 — but "thousands and thousands" of others are stricken in their 40s. "Isn’t their lives worth a simple test?"
"Wait until 50 for mammograms?"
Eliminating unnecessary treatment will help women: The goal of breast cancer screening should be "to find the cancers that have the potential to kill you, so that an intervention is necessary and can make a difference," says the blog of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Mammography just "is not as good a tool in younger women" — it tends to turn up slow-growing, non-life-threatening cancer and lead to unnecessary treatment — and self exams haven't been shown to be good at detecting cancer in curable stages.
"The new guidelines for mammography"
Who should women believe?: "I'm conflicted here," says blogger Cafe Kim in CafeMom. I get the numbers backing up the new recommendations — starting at age 40 would prevents one death, but also 470 false alarms, for every 1,000 women screened. But "at the same time I know lots of breast cancer survivors whose lives were saved because of early screening." Given what's at stake, it's unlikely that women in their 40s will feel at ease swearing off mammograms and self exams.
"New breast cancer advice: Skip mammograms in 40s and breast self-exams altogether"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is why you can't trust the NSA. Ever.
- Half the world's population lives in these 6 countries
- How a degree from Duke University dashed my dreams of buying a home
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- Innocent before proven guilty? The bizarre bipartisan rush to clear Rick Perry
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- What Keeping Up with the Kardashians can teach America about interracial marriage
- The real-life events that inspired Game of Thrones' Red Wedding
- The single best way to help your kid succeed at school
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
Subscribe to the Week