Former NIH Chief: Ignore Government's Mammography Recommendations

The first female to head the National Institutes of Health said Sunday she is advising women to ignore new recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which last week changed guidelines for mammographies from annually starting at age 40 to every other year starting at age 50.

"I'm saying very powerfully ignore them," former NIH director Dr. Bernardine Healy told "Fox
News Sunday."

"This will increase the number of women dying of breast cancer. Women in their 40s have a very aggressive kind of breast cancer. They tend to progress fast. And to not screen women in that age group is astounding to me, and it goes against the bulk of individuals who are actually caring for patients. You may save some money, Chris, but you're not going to save lives," she said.

Healy did say that new recommendations for raising to 21 the age for regular Pap screening for young women probably won't cause greater risks as cervical cancer is slow-growing and the Human Papilloma Virus cells which causes cervical cancer, often goes away on its own. That recommendation was offered by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

"We know when it starts. It's a sexually transmitted disease. It takes a while to turn into cancer. You don't just get that infection and suddenly get cancer. It usually takes about 10, sometimes 20 years, unless you're immunosuppressed," she said.

"This infection causes some very nasty looking cells on a Pap smear, and sometimes that does lead to aggressive treatment that's not needed because this infection in 90 percent of women clears up -- clears up -- in a matter of about two years, one to two years," Healy added.

The USPSTF has said that its recommendations are based on accurate and up-to-date information. But Republicans say the guidelines are the first steps toward government-run health care rationing.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pointed to the Senate legislation that is being debated next month to demonstrate how the USPSTF would be in charge of determining which preventive clinical services are covered under a so-called public option.

"In section 3131 of that bill, it changes the Preventive Services Task Force to the Clinical Preventive Services Task Force. Then, you go back and you see that that task force on preventive clinical services is tasked with rating A, B, C, D, or I all preventive services. ... And that indicates what would be paid or covered. And this is where the actual link comes, and I'll read it for you. In section 2301, it says, 'All recommendations of the Preventive Services Task Force' -- that's the group that did the mammograms -- 'and the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, as in existence on the day before the date of the enactment of this act, shall be considered to be recommendations of the Task Force on Clinical Preventive Services.'"

But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor who appeared on ABC'S "This Week" with Blackburn, said talk that the legislation would limit cancer screenings is overblown.

"We have to make sure that we're not forgetting about the people. And that's what the task force forgot about this week, is that we're not thinking about big, amorphous blobs of -- of people. Making -- these recommendations say that we can trade one life to save the angst and anxiety in a -- a larger group of women, and that's totally inappropriate, but that's also why major experts, medical experts, the cancer society, the colon foundation all came out against this, and that won't be controlling in the final legislation."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also issued a statement. "Let's be clear: the task force's recommendation will have absolutely no impact on the bills we in the Senate write, debate or vote on," he said. "(Health and Human Services) Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius has also assured me there that nothing in Medicare or Medicaid will change as a result of the recommendation, and that's the way it should be."