The news caused shock and anger nationwide: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended this week that women should begin getting routine mammograms at the age of 50 instead of the previously recommended age of 40. The new guidelines are intended to reduce the unnecessary treatment and stress resulting from false positives. The task force, an independent group of healthcare experts, found that the benefits of mammograms for women in their 40s were small compared to the stress caused by unneeded biopsies and tests. In addition, some breast cancers grow so slowly that they may never cause any harm during the woman’s lifetime. The task force also suggested that women ages 50 to 74 should receive mammograms every other year instead of annually, citing evidence that biannual mammograms offer comparable benefits but cause less harm.
Medical News Today reports that some advocacy groups support the new guidelines, while others find them to be potentially harmful to women’s health. Some argue that the guidelines will reduce unnecessary medical costs, while others have expressed concern that insurance companies will reduce coverage on mammograms for women under 50. It appears that the debate is only beginning.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women. The American Cancer Society reports that over 40,000 women in the U.S. will die of breast cancer by the end of 2009. A number of companies are developing alternatives to the traditional mammogram for the early, accurate detection of breast cancer. Companies working in this area include Stage I Diagnostics, Neomatrix, Matritech, CYTYC Corporation, and Life Medical Technologies.
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