Mammogram advice? Meh

A poll finds that few women plan to follow controversial new breast cancer screening guidelines

Published November 24, 2009 5:57PM (EST)

Women have a simple plan for responding to the unpopular new guidelines on breast cancer screenings: ignore them. A Gallup poll shows that 76 percent of women disagree with the recommendation that women hold off on mammograms until age 50, and a whopping 84 percent of those between age 35 and 49 intend to reject the advice entirely. Women are  going to get their mammograms when they damn well please.

The telephone poll of 1,136 women suggests that the objection to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's guidelines arises from a mistrust of the panel's motivations. Seventy-six percent of women believe the decision was based on cost, not science. That's no surprise considering that the results were released amid a contentious debate about healthcare reform and that the recommendations have been poorly communicated to the public. As Cristine Russell writes in the Atlantic, the panel's intent may have been to deliver the message "that individualized, informed decision making should replace blanket guidelines for universal, routine mammography screening of women in their 40s" -- but it failed spectacularly on that front. 

No matter your personal take on the new mammogram guidelines, one thing is certain: There is a critical lack of information on the topic. The Gallup poll found that 40 percent of women believe that a 40-year-old woman has a 20 to 50 percent chance of developing cancer over the next decade, when her actual risk is only 1.4 percent. Clearly, we need to strike a better balance between effective awareness-raising -- like pink ribbon campaigns -- and communicating nuanced medical fact.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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Breast Cancer Broadsheet Healthcare Reform