On October 20, 2015 the American Cancer Society released its latest mammogram guidelines, adding to the existing confusion about when a woman should obtain her first mammogram and how often she should get mammograms. For example, check out the following guidelines for the age to have an initial mammogram:
* American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): 40
* American Cancer Society: 45
* U.S. Preventative Services Task Force: 50
With such discrepancy no wonder why women and physicians are confused about this important decision. Having differing guidelines is a dangerous practice. We can all agree that early detection of cancer may mean the difference between life and death, and it can also mean that a patient needs less aggressive treatment. Imagine if the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force guideline is followed, health insurance companies may no longer be required to cover mammograms without the patient being responsible for co- payments, co-insurance, and a deductible for all women under the age of 50. How many women would no longer be able to obtain a mammogram because of financial concerns?
As a practicing OB/GYN who focuses on prevention of disease and optimal health for women, I strongly believe we should continue providing initial mammograms for women at the age of 40. I have diagnosed patients with breast cancer between the ages of 40-49 that would be missed if these changes take place. As a husband of a breast cancer survivor, I wonder if my wife of 30 years would still be with me if she wasn’t diagnosed early during a routine mammogram. How different would our outcome be if her mammogram was put off for a year or two, or even longer?
It’s time for all of us to act! U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senators have co-sponsored the bipartisan Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act (H.R. 3339 and S. 1926). This critical legislation would put a two year moratorium on implementing the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force breast cancer screening recommendations, which would allow time for concerns from both patients and physicians to be addressed.
Ultimately these decisions should be made between patients and their physicians. We can’t allow for the ability to make these important decisions to be taken away from women and their doctors. I encourage you to contact your Members of Congress today, and urge them to support the bipartisan PALS Act.
UPDATE This piece was recently featured in the Letters to the Editor section of the Elkin Tribune! See it here!