NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

November 28, 2009

Don't worry, breast cancer screening won't change, yet

All you women, stop worrying. Actually, you're fearmongering, and you all know how your beloved president doesn't like fearmongers. So stop it.

You'll be able to get your routine mammograms whenever you want after the feds take over health care. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said so, on National Public Radio and other news outlets. You can relax and ignore the recommendations of the HHS's Preventive Services Task Force, which is advising women to ditch decades of advice from doctors, the National Cancer Society and just about every women's health expert out there regarding screening for breast cancer.

They have always recommended an annual mammogram starting at age 40 and encouraged self-examination. The task force recommends against routine mammograms for women until they are 50 or older, and then only every other year. And it found no statistical health benefit to self-examination.

But, those are just recommendations, you see. Sebelius said on NPR — after a very long pause — that she won't follow them.

And remember, these recommendations have nothing to do with cost.

That is the other reassuring refrain from the task force, which insists that this is all about good science. All this additional screening doesn't save very many lives — maybe one out of 1,900. Mammograms carry risks of their own. Women can get stressed out by false positives that then lead to biopsies and other unnecessary procedures that aren't making women live any longer.

It's purely a coincidence that this report is coming out in the heat of the debate over a government takeover of health care. It is most unfortunate that some right-wing groups are stirring up "unfounded" fears of rationing. The research was done long before any of the health care bills were filed.

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