[caption id="attachment_2823" align="alignleft" width="103" caption="Dr. Cynara Coomer"][/caption]
I am outraged with the recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Not only does it send a mixed message to women about the benefits of a screening mammogram, it is also a dangerous practice to not screen women between the ages of 40-49 without an alternative test. Furthermore, early detection of breast cancer by mammograms has shown to have a significant decrease in the number of deaths. Although the numbers are more impressive for women over the age of 50, there is still a large impact for women in the 40-49 age group. For every 1,300 women screened between the ages of 50-59, one woman's life is saved. For every 1,900 women screened between the ages of 40-49, one woman's life is saved. Is the difference in the ratio really worth denying women in their 40s a chance of survival?
Proponents of the task force's recommendation argue that screening women in their 40s has led to a high number of false negatives, needless biopsies and unnecessary anxiety. However the impact of saving a woman's life in my perspective outweighs these problems. Ultimately, we need to find more appropriate tests to screen women, but the mammogram is our best available modality at this time.
Because of the number of women under the age of 50 that I personally treat in my practice for breast cancer, I will not go against the American Cancer Society guidelines of starting mammograms at the age of 40. Depending on their risk factors, some women may need a baseline mammogram at the age of 35. The impact of these guidelines is not only about survival outcomes, it is also about the treatment options that are available when breast cancer is found early. When breast cancer is found at an early stage, there are more surgical options and it usually does not require the addition of chemotherapy. On the other hand, when cancer is found at a later stage, surgical options become more limited and treatment will most likely include radiation and chemotherapy. The prognosis is also worse when cancer is found at a later stage. So to think that costs will be lowered by decreasing the number of screening tests does not make sense when we risk diagnosing breast cancer at a later stage. In the end, the cost of treating advanced breast cancer is far more expensive.
I hope the task force reconsiders and reverses their recommendation so that women will continue to understand that mammograms starting at the age of 40 save lives.
Dr. Cynara Coomer is an assistant professor of surgery specializing in breast health and breast cancer surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. She is a FOX News Health contributor providing medical expertise on a variety of topics in cancer research with a focus on women's health, breast diseases and tips for healthy breasts at any age.