Hot Topic: Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations

The controversy continues over the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) November 2009 recommendations for breast cancer screening. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) sent a letter, dated May 12, to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting all agencies under HHS cease all promotion of the “impugned” recommendations.

A heated debate among industry stakeholders began after the USPSTF changed its breast cancer screening recommendations last fall. The agency, which operates under the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), now recommends biennial screening mammography for women aged 50-74 years.
Previous recommendations were for women to begin annual screening mammography at age 40 years. USPSTF recommendations now recommend against routinely providing such services, but state on the AHRQ website, “The decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before age 50 should be an individual one and take patient context into account, including the patient’s values regarding specific benefits and harms.”
The U.S. senator said in his letter that the current recommendations are “confusing to women” and “ill-conceived.” The recommendations, Vitter said, “represent a step backward in our fight against a horrible disease.”
Also in the letter, Vitter reminds Secretary Sebelius of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or health reform law, which includes an amendment authorized by Sen. Vitter to prevent the USPSTF breast cancer screening recommendations from restricting coverage of mammograms for women aged 40-49 years.

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