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New Mammogram Recommendations Could Have Devastating Affect on Black Women

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - New guidelines for breast cancer screenings made by the United States Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) may not be the best recommendation for African-American women. The USPSTF now recommends that all women should begin routine mammograms at the age of 50 instead of at the previous age of 40 and to continue screenings every two years instead of annually.  The USPSTF feels that their research provides adequate evidence that mammography screenings may inaccurately diagnose and that they do not save as many lives in the younger age bracket.

However, breast cancer statistics for African-American women disprove their premise.  In fact, many African-American are diagnosed with breast cancer earlier than their Caucasian counterparts. Women of color are more often diagnosed as early as their 30s and well into their 40s.  The latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that there is a breast cancer rate in the Black community at 50.9 cases per 100,000 populations and a breast cancer death rate of 32.9 cases per 100,000 population.

Many organizations are opposed to the new recommendations.  They include the National Medical Association, an organization of African-American doctors.

"The   new   recommendations could have serious implications for African-American women since studies have shown that African-American women develop breast cancer at an earlier age, are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease, and develop more aggressive types of breast cancer," said Willarda V. Edwards, President of the NMA. "The USPSTF recommendations could result in even higher death rates for this disease and further exacerbate the challenges for the uninsured and the under insured."

Sara Horton, an oncologist at the Cancer Center at Howard University found the new guidelines problematic as well.

"I was very concerned with the new recommendations made by the USPSTF. African- American women have the highest breast cancer death rate and it is usually caught when it is further along.  We have to start teaching older women to start informing young black women to start screenings early," said Horton.  "Don't go with the new recommendations."

The American Cancer Society publicly announced that it would also inform people to not adhere to the recommendations and to continue starting screening at the age of 40.

"Our experts make this recommendation having reviewed virtually all the same data reviewed by the USPSTF, but also additional data that the USPSTF did not consider. When recommendations are based on judgments about the balance of risks and benefits, reasonable experts can look at the same data and reach different conclusions, said Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.  "The USPSTF says that screening 1,339 women in their 50s to save one life makes screening worthwhile in that age group. Yet USPSTF also says screening 1,904 women ages 40 to 49 in order to save one life is not worthwhile. The American Cancer Society feels that in both cases, the lifesaving benefits of screening outweigh any potential harms."

As of now, breast cancer is the most common cancer among all women. The USPSTF new guidelines may lead to more frightening numbers of fatalities, especially among African-American women. 

In addition to following the old guidelines and receiving mammography screenings earlier in life, there are also other recommendations that are key to combating breast cancer.
Says Horton, "Most importantly, know your family history. Consult with your physician at your 'medical home.'"

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