Proposed breast screenings may put women at risk

By Karen Herold, DNP.

Categories: Women's Health

There is much we know about breast cancer.

We know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime.

We know that mammograms can detect cancer in its earliest stages and that this is key to effective treatment and survival. Early intervention saves the lives of thousands of women in the United States every year.

Since mammography was introduced in the 1980s, the breast cancer death rate in the United States has dropped by more than 20%.

Today, because of the Affordable Care Act, women can receive annual mammograms at no cost starting at age 40.

However, much of what we know is now threatened.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an advisory group of volunteers, none of whom are experts in the area of breast cancer, is recommending new guidelines that would put more than 22 million women at risk.

The proposed guidelines are not aligned with the American Cancer Society and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology guidelines of yearly mammograms after age 40. The task force's guidelines would push the recommended age for initial screening to 50 and then every two years instead of every year.

Insurance companies would not be required to cover mammograms for women ages 40 to 49 — the age range in which breast cancer can be the most aggressive, and in which early detection is the most crucial.

Many women — millions — would go unscreened because they couldn't afford to pay out of pocket for this exam.

On July 23, I joined the National Consortium of Breast Centers' delegation of nearly 30 breast cancer experts and survivors on a trip to Washington, D.C., to appeal to Congress to intervene on behalf of women and stop these guidelines from going into effect.

My group met specifically with the offices of Sens. Diane Feinsten (D-Calif) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Commerce), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

We have asked for a two-year moratorium on these draft guidelines to allow time for concerns to be addressed.

On July 29, we learned that our requested moratorium had been introduced by the House as the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings Act, which vehemently opposes the task force's recommendations.

It is concerning that not one member of this all-volunteer task force is an expert in breast cancer care, and yet the group is positioned to serve as an authority for screening guidelines, handing down recommendations that are harmful and illogical.

I encourage people to write to their House and Senate representatives and urge them to support this bill, or visit change.org and sign the "Protect Women's Access to Mammograms" online petition.

Let us stand with the breast cancer experts who know how to effectively screen for and treat breast cancer.

Take action because women deserve better.

KAREN HEROLD, DNP, is a high-risk breast nurse practitioner at Hoag Hopsital's Women's Health Institute.​