KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Task Force Maintains That Fewer Mammograms Are Needed

The final set of guidelines from the government panel supports a range of choices for women when it comes to breast cancer screening. They recommend women in their 50s get a mammogram every two years, but women in their 40s should weigh the pros of early detection against the cons of a false positive, which could bring anxiety and unnecessary medical treatment with it. The guidelines are already proving controversial as advocates and lawmakers back early screenings.

The New York Times: Panel Reasserts Mammogram Advice That Triggered Breast Cancer Debate
In 2009, an influential panel of medical experts ignited a nationwide uproar by suggesting that women needed fewer mammograms than had long been recommended. Instead of starting at age 40 and being screened every year, women with average risk of breast cancer could safely begin at 50 and be tested every other year, the group said, citing extensive data to support its advice. It also said that after 74, there was not enough evidence to determine whether routine mammography was worthwhile. Outrage ensued, from advocates for screening who said the advice would lead to delayed diagnoses and deaths. On Monday, the same panel issued an update of its guidelines — and it is sticking to its guns. (Grady, 1/11)

The Associated Press: Task Force: Mammograms An Option At 40, Do More Good At 50
Mammograms do the most good later in life, a government task force has declared in recommending that women get one every other year starting at age 50. It said 40-somethings should make their own choice after weighing the pros and cons. The latest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, made public Monday, stick with its advice that women should have one every two years between ages 50 and 74. But they also make clear that it's an option for younger women even though they're less likely to benefit. (1/12)

The Washington Post: New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines At Odds With Congress
The task force's final recommendation is likely to be controversial because some other groups say the screening should start earlier. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, for example, recommends that regular screenings begin at age 40, while the American Cancer Society calls for women to start yearly screening at age 45 and then move to screening every two years starting at age 55. Congress has sided with proponents of earlier screening. Last month, in anticipation of Monday's release of the task force’s final recommendation, lawmakers took preemptive action: It directed insurers to ignore the task force's latest guidelines and, instead, to rely on its 2002 recommendation. (Sun, 1/11)

The San Francisco Gate: New Guidelines Recommend Mammograms Starting At Age 50
The U.S. task force’s guidelines are considered significant because they could influence how health insurers cover mammography in the future, but Congress made sure insurance coverage won’t be affected at least for the next two years. In December, President Obama signed a bill into law that ensures coverage for mammography will remain the same through 2017. The law guarantees that women 40 years and older enrolled in most health insurance plans will be covered for screening mammography, either annually or every other year, without copayments, coinsurance or deductibles. (Colliver, 1/11)

The Wall Street Journal: Final Recommendations On When To Start Getting A Mammogram
Medical groups decide on guidelines by weighing the potential benefits of breast-cancer screening, mainly lives saved through early cancer detection, against possible harms, including false positives that can lead to unnecessary tests and treatment. Weighing the various factors differently can change the conclusions. ... While regular mammograms for women in their 40s are effective in reducing deaths from breast cancer, the benefit is less than it is for older women and the potential harms are greater, the task force noted. (Reddy, 1/11)

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