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No change in cancer screening

November 19, 2009|Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the controversial new guidelines for breast cancer screening do not represent government policy, as the Obama administration sought to keep the debate over mammograms from undermining the prospects for healthcare reform.

In a written statement, Sebelius said the guidelines had "caused a great deal of confusion and worry among women and their families across this country" and stressed that they were issued by "an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who . . . do not set federal policy and . . . don't determine what services are covered by the federal government."

Her statement challenged the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, made up of independent experts assembled by her department to address one of the most explosive issues in women's health.

The task force on Monday recommended that women in their 40s stop having routine mammograms and instead individually discuss whether to get the exams with their doctors.

The panel also recommended that women in their 50s get mammograms routinely every two years, instead of annually. The panel argued that the benefits of more frequent exams were outweighed by the harms caused by false alarms, which can lead to anxiety and unneeded treatment.

While hailed by many patient advocates and breast cancer experts, the new guidelines have been harshly criticized by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology and others, including some members of Congress.

Some have questioned whether the guidelines are related to the healthcare reform debate and efforts to save money by rationing care -- allegations strongly denied by the task force.

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