We can’t see all news coverage. But we saw enough stories that framed it as only bad news when two new studies this week reported on a decline in mammograms in women in their forties after the US Preventive Services Task Force’s revised recommendations were released in November of 2009. (See our reviews of a Denver Post story that got only two stars and a CNN.com story that got four stars – neither of which looked at the flip side that this could be viewed as a positive development. A CBS News story was headlined, “Are mammography guidelines making breast cancer deadlier?”)
In a Q&A on the NBC Today Show website, NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman (who was one of the few in broadcast news to present a balanced view of the USPSTF recommendations 20 months ago), says the decline in mammograms in this group…
“… means patients are listening and making decisions based on their individual health characteristics and risk factors. This is what you want people to do when the science gives them choices.
Ultimately, women and their doctors need to sit down and have this conversation. Early screening can be a great thing, but it comes with its fair share of risks, including radiation exposure and the risk of a false-positive result. The important thing is that for women that decide they want to be screened earlier, they still have the right to choose.”
The online Q&A continued:
“Q. You’ve said that after years of recommending early screening, you changed your views based on the new guidelines. Do you still feel that way?
A. I have always been a supporter of screening and preventive medicine. However, when it comes to the 40- to 49-year-old group, there is no proof that screening saves lives. It may save your breasts, in the sense that earlier detection may give a woman more surgical options in terms of lumpectomy verses radical mastectomy, but it may not add years to your life.
Q. What is the take-home message about breast cancer screening?
A. The take-home message is that women should listen to the controversy and make an informed rational decision about what is best for their health. As uncomfortable as this debate makes people, this sort of inquiry is exactly what makes science great. It’s your body and the more you know about the pros and cons, the more informed your health choices will be. Ultimately, the choice is yours. No one is denying women the right to get a mammogram, but you should know that if you don’t have any risk factors, the science is on your side if you choose to wait until you are 50 to begin annual screening. “