Mammogram guidelines: One size does not fit all

By Megan Evans / Staff Writer

By Megan Evans / Staff Writer

The Republicans and Democrats have begun a new political war.

The two parties have found something better to argue about, mammograms.

The debate about health insurance is old news.

The U.S. Preventive Task force released new clinical guidelines in mid November.

These guidelines recommended that women over the age of 50 receive mammograms every other year rather than every year.

The task force also stated that women ages 40-49 go without annual mammograms unless they have certain risk factors such as genetic mutations or a family history of breast cancer that would make them more susceptible to the disease.

These new guidelines have started up the new political debate on whether or not these “findings” are just a new way of cutting medical costs.

Some Republicans in Congress are using these recommendations to argue their point about the healthcare reform.

Some state that this is just another way of having the government get in between a patient and their physician.

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn stated, “this is how rationing begins.”

She referred to the guidelines as “the toe in the edge of the water.”

The U.S. Preventive task force intentions are in a good place.

These clinical guidelines were released to give women under the age of 50 more choices in terms of frequency and timing of mammograms.

They were meant to show the full benefits and risks of receiving them.

These recommended guidelines are not mandatory, and should not be a one size fits all kind of thing.

One thing is certain, if a woman decides it is of her best interest to receive a mammogram every year from ages 40-49, there should be no hesitation.

But before any decisions are made, the “Balance of Harms and Benefits” must be brought up.

According to the U.S. Preventive Task Force, “Harms of screening include psychological harms, additional medical visits, imaging, and biopsies in women without cancer, inconvenience due to false-positive screening results, harms of unnecessary treatment, and radiation exposure. Harms seem moderate for each age group.”

For women ages 40-49, mammograms have a minimal success rate in reducing the risk of breast cancer.

According to the U.S. Preventive Task Force, annual mammograms for women ages 40-49 reduce the risk of breast cancer death by 15%, leaving the other 85% to clear mammograms or false positives.

One huge and unmistakable problem with mammograms today is the high number of false-positives.

These cases of false diagnosis are scary to say the least.

In contrast to the U.S. Preventive Task Force, a recent article by CNN stated that for women ages 40-49, mammograms save only one life out of every 1,399.

 Even though this number is far less than 15 percent,  one life saved is worth the cost of psychological harm and unnecessary treatment of these women.

These recent studies come as a surprise to many women, especially with the breast cancer awareness movement within recent years.

But one thing is simple. Mammograms have been saving lives for years, and are an important tool for discovering breast cancer in patients who are unaware of the disease.

It is imperative that women speak with their physician, review family history for breast cancer, and come up with an individualized decision that will replace these guidelines.

Mammography screenings should be personalized to fit every woman, no matter what the case.

For women at higher risk of breast cancer, or a family history of breast cancer, annual routine mammograms should begin in thier 40‘s.

While women at a low risk or average risk of breast cancer should be generally based on personal decisions.

These guidelines have fired up a new political debate, and have kept many women wondering if these recommendations were released based on recent news of healthcare reform.

However the media and public misinterpreted these new guidelines when it came to money.

The U.S. Preventive Task Force did not take cost into consideration when publishing these findings.

These recommendations have worked wonderfully for the Republicans, who argue that these guidelines are just one step closer to universal healthcare.

While Democrats say the guidelines mean nothing.

But for those women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40’s, or maybe even 20’s and 30’s, these new guidelines are the new hot topic.

These women argue that mammograms are an essential tool in discovering and diagnosing breast cancer.

And for those women whose lives were saved by the mammograms, they make a point that cannot be argued.

Even with the cost of false-positives, saving a few lives is worth it.

The most frightening thing about these guidelines is what insurance company’s decide to do with them.

They may argue that since these guidelines recommend fewer mammogram screenings, they won’t be obligated to pay for more than the recommended amount.

In this case, women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer become endangered.

If the insurance company’s are not obligated to pay for mammograms upon a patients request, then a woman may go for a long period of time and not know she has breast cancer.

This would put her life in jeopardy and would increase the amount of breast cancer deaths in America.

These guidelines should in no way determine when women should begin mammography screenings, and should not be used for insurance company’s to cut healthcare costs.

Whatever the case, women should follow their instincts and receive mammograms based on personal decision making, and not a one size fits all guideline.