February 23, 2010

States Cut Back On Mammograms

The Avon Foundation for Women released a survey on Monday that said some U.S. states have started using controversial new breast cancer screening guidelines to stop offering routine mammograms for uninsured women in their 40s.

The survey included 150 breast cancer health educators and providers from 48 states.  A quarter of the states either cut or eliminated screening mammography and other early detection services for women under 50.

The Avon survey helped revitalize concerns that the guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force might be used to deny health coverage for women.  The task force raised the recommended age for women to start getting screened for breast cancer to 50.

"Lawmakers at all levels need to act now to ensure that these recommendations do no further damage, and that women have full and ready access to mammography," Dr. James Thrall, chair of the American College of Radiology's Board of Chancellors, said in a statement to Reuters.

The guidelines created controversy when cancer doctors and advocacy groups said the charges would mean more women would die from breast cancer. 

"Our survey gives us an early indication from those working on the front lines of breast cancer education, screening and treatment as to how the recommended guidelines may be affecting their work," said Marc Hurlbert, director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, which is partly funded by Avon Products Inc.

Spokesman Mark Caffee said the poll was meant to get an early read on how states have responded to the guidelines.

People from small community groups to leading cancer centers, like Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, took place in the survey.

Respondents from multiple states said they have seen changes in breast and cervical cancer early detection programs in which screening mammography and other early detection services had been cut back or eliminated for women under 50.

The programs offer low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in November that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force did not set federal policy and its findings would not affect the services the government pays for.

The American College of Radiology rejected the task force guidelines and asked lawmakers to officially exclude the panel's recommendations from coverage decisions by federal and state insured programs.


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