VOA Special English – Debate Over New Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screening

A group of U.S. medical experts now advises against mammograms for most women under 50 years old. And those age 50 to 74 are advised to get tested every two years, instead of yearly. Transcript of radio broadcast:
17 November 2009

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

On Monday, an influential group of medical experts released new guidelines on testing for breast cancer. The guidelines are from the United States Preventive Services Task Force. Its members are appointed by the government but its recommendations are independent.

The new guidelines appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

One of the biggest changes is that the task force now advises against mammograms for most women under fifty years old. In two thousand two the group had suggested such screening tests every one to two years for women forty and older.

The new guidelines also say women between fifty and seventy-four should not get mammograms every year as currently advised. The experts now recommend testing every two years for that age group.

The task force says the new recommendations are not meant for women who have an increased risk of breast cancer.

The experts also say there is not enough evidence to decide about the benefits and harms of testing women seventy-five or older.

But the group recommends against teaching women breast self-examination. It says evidence suggests that doing so does not reduce breast cancer deaths.

Mistaken test results — called false positives — are one problem. But another problem noted by the task force is overdiagnosis. This is when doctors find and possibly treat cancers that would not have shortened a woman’s life.

Radiation exposure from breast X-rays is another consideration, though the task force says it may be a minor concern.

The task force did not suggest one form of mammography over another. It says there is not enough evidence to decide about either digital mammography or magnetic resonance imaging instead of traditional film mammography.

Some doctors say the new guidelines will reduce women’s chances of needless treatments, invasive tests and harm, including psychological harm. But other doctors say they worry that the changes will reduce testing and lead to more women dying from breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society says it will continue to advise women forty and older to have yearly mammograms. But breast cancer expert Susan Love says the new guidelines are similar to those of most other countries.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For more health news, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.

Sources : VOA Special English

One comment

  • Seems as if doctors don’t think women over 74 should be candidates for breast cancer! Are we too old? I am now 85 and a survivor of breast cancer. My first diagnosis was at age 81 (2001) with a resultant lumpectomy on right side at age 82. I had radiation treatment and felt fine during the whole series. Since I am very active and still working at the time (full days and sometimes weekends)and there was never any history of breast cancer in my family (my mother died at 93 and I have two older sisters–93 and 95– who have few medical problems)I could have neglected seeing my doctor, if I had subscribed to the new findings. I am grateful that my gynecologist is such a fine diagnostician and saw through my dense breasts. With mammograms and ultrasound she discovered the cancer had returned in March of this year. Fortunately, I had a mastectomy in May and reconstructive surgery three weeks ago. Discovering it so early I don’t need anymore radiation or any other medications, according to my oncologist.
    Perhaps the findings of the recent study would have found me too old to undergo surgery! (Or too costly?)
    I worry about younger women under 50! How much weight did they give too much radiation vs. early detection of breast cancer?–Harriette Ellis, Cypress,CA

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