The news today is full of reports about newly released mammogram guidelines for women. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is suggesting that women begin annual mammograms at age 50 instead of age 40, the standard for decades. The American Cancer Society disputes the recommendation and defends the existing standards.
Personally, I think the change is a dangerous mistake with suspicious timing. Health insurance companies are already under fire for their practice of paying out as little as possible as late as possible. A recommendation like this could be all the justification they need to stop paying for screening procedures for women younger than age 50.
I understand the rationale behind the new recommendation: Early screenings ($$$) produce a lot of false positives and those, in turn, may result in additional, unnecessary tests ($$$). Personally, I’d prefer a false positive to a malignancy diagnosed too late. And, given the moderate rate at which most malignancies develop, I feel confident that an annual physical exam and mammogram will detect a malignancy before it becomes dangerous.
It’s up to your doctor to recommend mammograms based on a careful evaluation of your medical history and risk. And it’s then up to you to decide what you want to do. However, there should be no question at all that if your doctor recommends it, your insurance company will pay for it — no matter how old or young you happen to be.
The LA Times published a comprehensive report here.