Government Press Release on Breast Cancer Detection

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The following is a press release, released Wednesday, from the Department of Health and Human Services.

    "HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued the following statement today on new breast cancer screening recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force:

    “There is no question that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations have caused a great deal of confusion and worry among women and their families across this country. I want to address that confusion head on. The U.S. Preventive Task Force is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations. They do not set federal policy and they don’t determine what services are covered by the federal government.

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    “There has been debate in this country for years about the age at which routine screening mammograms should begin, and how often they should be given. The Task Force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged. Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action.

    “What is clear is that there is a great need for more evidence, more research and more scientific innovation to help women prevent, detect, and fight breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

    “My message to women is simple. Mammograms have always been an important life-saving tool in the fight against breast cancer and they still are today. Keep doing what you have been doing for years -- talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions, and make the decision that is right for you.”

    These heartening words from Sec. Sebelius mirror the decision I’d come to in the wake of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations around screening mammograms.


    As I said in my earlier post, I support the government’s right and responsibility to develop public policy – in this case, through the use of an outside task force. And I also have the right – as does every woman in this country – to disregard the task force’s recommendations.

    Secretary Sebelius appears to be encouraging women to do just that: ignore the recommendations, and follow their own chosen schedule of screening mammograms. She also seems to be saying there’ll be no change in federal programs currently subsidizing mammograms.

    Finally, by saying “I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action,” I believe Sec. Sebelius is letting the insurance industry know that dropping mammogram coverage may not be looked on with favor by the feds.

    I find this statement heartening, and hope it wasn’t made simply to quell the firestorm that’s exploded from the USPSTF recommendations revealed Monday.


    To all of you scorched by that storm, and moved to share your thoughts and feelings here – I hope this makes you feel better.

    Get your mammograms on the schedule you’ve always gotten them, knowing that they’re an imperfect tool, but the best tool we’ve got – at the moment.


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    Understand that, as the task force says, you may be subjected to callbacks, additional testing, and even biopsies, all of which turn out to be unnecessary if no cancer is revealed. Accept the emotional anxiety these false positives engender, and consider them the price you pay for “life insurance.”

    Finally, get to know your breasts – intimately. And if you ever feel a difference – a lump, a thickening, a “fullness” – in your breast, or under your arm, pay attention. Call the doctor if it doesn’t disappear. This will be our answer to the task force’s conclusion that breast self-exams don’t prevent cancer deaths. Because, for those of us who’ve found a lump that turns out to be early, treatable cancer – we know they do.


    For an overview of the topic, please visit our Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines page

Published On: November 18, 2009