Controversy growing over government panel's recommendation for mammograms


Posted on November 17, 2009 at 4:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 18 at 5:40 PM

Tell us: What do you think of the mammogram controversy?

(WHAS11) - Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, in American women.

But there is controversy growing over a government panel’s recommendation that women wait until their 50s for regular mammograms, and slow down a host of other breast cancer screenings.

This controversy is turning traditional prevention advice on its head, and has some worried that there could be deadly consequences.

“It’s a pain in the butt.  You sit here hooked up to this thing and they jab a needle in you.  That’s not fun, but that’s not so horrible when you think about how really fortunate I am,” said Kate Merchant.

WHAS11 followed 49-year-old Kate Merchant in the final rounds of her weekly chemotherapy visits; treatments she began after her annual mammogram showed a lump.  “Usually the technicians will laugh and talk with you, but after she did that first shot, she was all business,” said Merchant.

Cancer-free since September, Kate is thankful for the yearly check-ups she started when she turned 40.  “It saved my life and I think any woman that’s between 40 and 50, this is scary news for them.”

But what some are considering the real scary news are new recommendations that women wait until they’re 50 years old for regular mammogram screenings, and do them only once every two years.

Doctors at the Brown Cancer Center echo the sentiment that they don’t see how anyone can consider doing away with the research and diagnostic tools.  “It’s has to be a cost-saving measure.  That’s the only thing I can fathom; that insurance companies just don’t want to pay for it anymore,” said one physician.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, American Cancer Society said, “They could make insurers change their policies in what they’re going to pay for, with respect to mammograms. They could change Medicare and Medicaid.”

Kate said she’s living proof of why these new guidelines should be ignored.   “What’s the value of a life?”

Members of the task force panel said they’re worried that some women may be over-treated.