Begin Mammograms at 40: SGK for the Cure

Gov't also distances itself from panel's mammogram recommendations

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    Women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40, a federal official says.

    Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer advocacy group, is standing firm on its position that women begin to get mammograms at the age 40.

    "Until we have further evidence that that needs to change, SGK for the Cure is going to keep those recommendations," said Diana Rowden, a breast cancer survivor who works for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

    Begin Mammograms at 40: SGK for the Cure

    [DFW] Begin Mammograms at 40: SGK for the Cure
    Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer advocacy group, is standing firm on its position that women begin to get mammograms at the age 40. (Published Thursday, Nov 19, 2009)

    A recommendation by a government panel Monday said that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50.

    Rowden said she was 38 when she was diagnosed in a well-woman exam.

    "I think my No. 1 concern is that this serves as a barrier or an impediment to women seeking screening," she said.

    But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40.

    The panel's recommendation was a break with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position that women should get screening mammograms starting at age 40.

    In its report, the panel of doctors and scientists concluded that such early and frequent screenings often lead to false alarms and unneeded biopsies, without substantially improving women's odds of survival.

    The recommendations from the task force have left women across the country confused about which advice to take. It also quickly led to charges from opponents of changing health care policy that it is an example of what could be expected from government-managed care.

    Sebelius said Wednesday that the task force does "not set federal policy, and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government."

    Medicare, which covers older Americans and some younger ones who are disabled, provides women on Medicare coverage for an annual mammogram at age 40 and older.

    Sebelius noted that there has been debate about the age at which routine mammograms should begin, and how often they should be given. She said she would be "very surprised" if insurance companies decided to change how they cover mammography based on the panel's recommendations.

    "My message to women is simple. Mammograms have always been an important lifesaving tool in the fight against breast cancer, and they still are today. Keep doing what you have been doing for years -- talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions and make the decision that is right for you," Sebelius said.

    In the meantime, she added, it is clear that more research is needed into ways to help women prevent and fight breast cancer.