Mammogram mix-up

The panel behind new guidelines on breast cancer screenings admits it "communicated very poorly"

By Tracy Clark-Flory
December 4, 2009 12:11AM (UTC)
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So, about those new breast cancer screening guidelines. The panel that issued the controversial recommendation has a little something to say: Whoops, our bad. During a House hearing Wednesday, doctors from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force admitted that their findings were "communicated very poorly." 

"It's clear that many women, many physicians and certainly the media interpreted that language as if we were recommending against women in their 40s ever having a mammogram," said Dr. Diana Petitti, the panel's vice chair. Instead, the panel's intended advice was that women under 50 should talk with their doctor about whether a mammogram is appropriate for them, based on their own medical history. That message was clear from the outset if you carefully read the panel's actual recommendation -- and I quote -- "against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years." Unfortunately, as in a massive game of telephone, one crucial word was dropped upon repetition: routine. Petitti clarified this point for the House panel: "Mammograms over 40 should not be automatic."


In truth, it's a rather simple and reasonable recommendation. Still, it's stunning the panel didn't anticipate controversy over guidelines that seem to go against the much-celebrated dictum of early testing and detection. Someone get that panel a hotshot press agent, stat.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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