In November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed dramatic changes to breast cancer screening guidelines, recommending that women younger than 50 with an average risk of breast cancer didn't need routine screening mammograms. The proposed change was discussed and debated by many people, including U.S. legislators. The same legislators also are working on major healthcare reform legislation.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Olympia Snowe proposed a new amendment to the healthcare reform bill that requires insurers to cover mammograms for women age 40 to 49. Sen. David Vitter added an amendment to the Mikulski/Snowe amendment that said the Preventive Services Task Force recommendations shouldn't be used to determine if insurers cover screening mammograms. The amended amendment was approved (61 for and 39 against). This amendment only would take effect if the healthcare reform bill is approved.
A member of the Preventive Services Task Force spoke to a U.S. House of Representatives panel in December 2009. She defended the recommendations and the science behind it. She also said the recommendations weren't politically motivated.
After the task force recommendations were publicized, many organizations said they didn't agree with and wouldn't accept the recommendations:
- The American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said they wouldn't change their breast cancer screening recommendations.
- The National Cancer Institute and the American Academy of Family Physicians said they would take a wait-and-see approach to the recommendations.
- The American College of Radiology rejected the recommendations and said adopting the recommendations "will result in countless unnecessary breast cancer deaths each year."
- Breastcancer.org strongly disagreed with the recommendations and the science behind the proposed changes.
The National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation both supported the new recommendations.
At the same time the Senate was conducting hearings on the issue, the Radiological Society of North America was holding its annual meeting. The organization issued a statement strongly opposing the task force recommendations, saying they were not backed by scientific evidence and would lead to unnecessary breast cancer deaths.
Breastcancer.org applauds the Senate for specifically addressing breast cancer screening in the healthcare reform bill. We hope the amendment to the reform bill will be an important step toward making sure that current breast cancer screening recommendations do not change and that insurers will cover the screening. Still, the bill faces tough debate and its passage isn't a sure thing.
Like many in the Breastcancer.org community, you may have questions about the breast cancer screening changes suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Breastcancer.org has answers to some frequently asked questions about the task force recommendations, including how they came about, how they might influence screening in the future, and what they mean for women today.