Breast cancer advisory called ‘outrageous’
Physician, activist reject task force’s advice on screening
November 25, 2009
A local physician and a Jewish women’s health advocate joined the debate over a new government study recommending that women put off mammograms until age 50 and then have one only every two years.
Radiologist Linda Sanders of Montville called the recommendation “outrageous,” saying it might put younger women at risk of breast cancer.
“I still believe very strongly that women between 40 and 49 should have screening mammograms yearly or every other year,” said Sanders, medical director of the Breast Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. “We see so many women who benefit from mammograms at a young age — we find early cancer in these women.”
Moreover, she pointed out that other professional groups, among them the American Cancer Society, looked at the same data and reached the opposite conclusion.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendations marked a reversal from the last set of recommendations, released in 2002, which recommended mammograms every one or two years for women beginning at age 40. The task force weighed the benefits of routine screening against the medical problems caused by complications that arise from biopsies, along with the anxiety felt among women in their 40s whose mammographies result in false positives.
Rochelle Shoretz of Teaneck, founder of Sharsheret, a national organization supporting young Jewish women with breast cancer, told NJJN she would urge women to “consult with their health care providers about the method and frequency of screening that is appropriate for them individually, given their particular medical and family genetic history.”
Later, in an interview with Fox 5 News, Shoretz was specifically critical of the task force recommendations. Age 50 is “too late,” said Shoretz, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28 after finding a growth in a self-examination. “I’m frustrated. I think we’re taking a step backward. We need to be giving young women more information, not less.”
Sanders suggested the task force focused on policy rather than patients.
“A physician advocates for a patient to get the proper medical care, whatever the cost. A public policy expert is interested in the cost of a procedure or test and will evaluate its financial aspects to make recommendations,” she said.
Sanders acknowledged that breast cancer is less common among women in their 40s than those in their 50s. “It may not be economically viable in your playbook,” she said, but she won’t stop recommending that women have the screening.
“Most women who are paying attention will pay attention to the negative comments and will continue getting mammograms,” she said.