The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new mammogram guidelines oppose routine screenings for women ages 40 to 49 — the very same group that the American Cancer Society says needs a breast check up each year to help catch cancers early — and are against teaching patients how do self-exams at home. We tracked down two of our Top Doctors to see what they thought: Marissa Weiss, MD, founder and president of breastcancer.org, and Anne Rosenberg, MD, a breast cancer surgeon at Jefferson University Hospital.
The unanimous verdict? The new guidelines have been set by a bunch of boobs. See why our Top Docs are fiercely opposed to them below — and why they’re asking YOU to take a stand and sign the petition at breastcancer.org today.
1. Lack of expert opinion. “None of the doctors on the task force are breast cancer doctors,” says Dr. Weiss. “They’re more from the general medicine and public health arena, and they were asked to evaluate the value of mammography.”
2. They underestimated the pros and overestimated the cons. “They made a lot of assumptions in their analysis,” says Dr. Weiss. “They said that there was only a 15 percent survival benefit, and they overestimated the harm the amount of radiation you’re exposed to. They also included things that are simply an annoyance to most women as a harm, like having to go back for repeat screenings if something suspicious showed up on their screening.” The reality: Mammograms up the chances of survival by 30 to 40 percent, and the amount of radiation you incur each time is no more than what you get from a year of living in modern-day society, says Dr. Weiss.
3. The guidelines use old studies to support their claims. “They based their findings on film mammography, which is old technology,” says Dr. Weiss. “The quality of digital mammograms and the new machines is dramatically different. It’s night and day.” Imagine telling someone how to use their iPhone now based on old cell phone technology, adds Dr. Rosenberg. “That’s basically what they did.”
4. Self-exams save lives. “About twenty percent of breast cancers can only be found by physical exams alone, 40 percent can only be found by mammograms, and the rest can be found by both,” says Dr. Weiss. “Self exams should start as soon as women start to grow breasts because they need to become comfortable with it and become familiar with what their breasts feel like,” says Dr. Weiss. Do it as often as once a month, and wait until after your period when breasts have settled down and aren’t as tender.
5. Anybody that deals with breast cancer disagrees with them. “The American Cancer Society, the American College of Surgeons, Living Beyond Breast Cancer … Every major society that deals with breast health or cancer opposes the guidelines and insists that they’re sticking with the prior recommendations,” says Dr. Rosenberg.
6. It’s based on cutting costs, not saving lives. “They’re putting the cost on the heads of women who will be obliged to find a cancer only by feeling it,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “The problem with that is that they’re usually more advanced at that stage and harder to treat.”
7. It gives insurance companies a loophole. We’re already not allowed to order a breast MRI when we think a patient needs one,” says Dr. Rosenburg. “We have to call the insurance company, which often says they won’t cover it. Not that the patient can’t have it, but that they need to pay for it themselves out of their own pocket.”
8. In the end, it won’t end up saving money. “More women will require mastectomies and chemo if their cancer is not found early,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “So saving money today will end up costing lives and the same amount, if not more money, later on.”
9. It’s causing confusion. “We’ve worked so hard to clarify and fortify the message that all women need to start regular mammograms at age 40,” says Dr. Weiss. Even if they change their guidelines, they’ve already confused the issue and given women an excuse not to get one."
10. They’ve turned back the clock. “They are taking women in the prime of their lives, women with children, with people who depend on them, and basically throwing them back to an a prior error when there was little we could offer in terms of finding cancer early, when it’s most curable,” says Dr. Weiss. “No, there’s no perfect test yet, but we do have a test that saves lives — it’s called the mammogram.”