Do Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Put African-American Women at Risk

WASHIGNTON (April 13) -- MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard led a spirited, sometimes testy discussion Monday, April 13, at Howard University Hospital in which participants sparred over the controversial new federal guidelines for the age at which women should begin getting mammograms for breast cancer and how often.  The new guidelines by the U. S. Preventative Services Task Force raised the age at which women should begin mammograms from age 40 to age 50 and said they should get them ever other year rather than annually, as under the old guidelines.

The panel, (from left) Jenny Luray, president of the Komen Advocacy Alliance and senior vice president of government affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, cancer researcher, former president of the American Cancer Society and the Society of Surgical Oncology and professor of surgery at Howard University College of Medicine; Dr. Worta McCaskill Stevens, head of Breast Prevention and the Minority-based Clinical Community Oncology Program  for the National Cancer Institute; Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon and chair of the conservative advocacy group Arizonans for Health Care Freedom; Dr. Charles P. Mouton, chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital, U.S. Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democratic delegate to Congress from the U.S. Virgin Islands, were divided over whether the new guidelines would be harmful to African-American women, who are diagnosed with breast cancer less often than white women, but die from the disease at higher rates.

Luray, Leffall and Christensen argued that women should not follow the new guidelines because it could lead to them not being diagnosed with the disease early enough to survive the disease.  Luray said many insurance companies that normally cover mammograms for women, are no longer doing that.

“Whole states are removing women 40 to 49 from their screening program because of these guidelines,” Luray said.   

Mouton and McCaskill Stevens said statistical data shows statistics show that the new guidelines are correct and would avoid costly and possibly harmful unneeded tests.   Mouton also said that the guidelines reflect the realities that health care resources are limited.

“If you believe that resources are limited, then you have to have a policy that reflects the fact that resources are limited,” Mouton said.

Christensen said resources aren’t limited, they are just not  properly prioritized.

“If we have money for other things we feel are priority, like wars and other investments we make, then we have resources for health care if that is our priority,” she said.

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