Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Guidelines for Breast Cancer Screenings and Their Potential Effects on African Americans

Last week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced new guidelines for breast cancer screenings that are a drastic change from prior guidelines. The new guidelines suggest that only women 50-74 should get regular mammograms occurring every two years. They also recommend that doctors do not urge women to do monthly self-exams.

There are numerous reasons behind the changed guidelines. According to findings from the Task Force, there is no statistically significant evidence that screening women ages 40-49 reduces breast cancer mortality. There is also an issue of false-positive results, which may lead to unnecessary tests, procedures and stress on the patient.

Since the release of the new recommendations, organizations and individuals have been divided over their implications. Some breast cancer survivors, along with their friends and family, feel like these guidelines will hurt women. Others believe that if the test does not help, it should not be performed.

Secretary of Health and Human Service, Kathleen Sebelius, has stated that breast cancer screenings will continue under Medicare according to the old guidelines. However, it remains unclear how insurance companies will react to this new standard.

If mammograms are cut back according to these guidelines, one group that may be disproportionately affected is African-American women. As The Women’s Law Project and others mentioned today, African-American women have a high breast cancer death rate and an increased risk of developing the disease at a younger age. African-American women are also more prone to have an extremely aggressive form of breast cancer that progresses quickly and is more resistant to treatment.

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