Video: More mixed messages on mammograms

  1. Closed captioning of: More mixed messages on mammograms

    >>> news" begins now.

    >>> good evening. i'm ann curry in for brian williams tonight. he'll be back tomorrow. and we begin with a sudden and surprising development in a story we've been bringing you this week. the latest government guidelines on when women should start getting mammograms to detect breast cancer . two days after an independent panel recommended regular mammograms begin not at age 40 but at age 50, the secretary of health and human services said women should still consider getting mammograms at age 40. we have an interview with secretary sibelius in suft a moment. but first nbc's chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman sorts through the confusion.

    >> reporter: they're blogging about it, twitting about it, and e-mailing about it. two days after an independent panel of experts issued new recommendations for who should get screened for breast cancer and when, women remain confused.

    >> it goes counter to everything that we women have heard over the years.

    >> reporter: and now this. health and human services sector kathleen sebelius issued a statement today saying "the task force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged. keep doing what you have been doing for years. talk to your doctor and make the decision that is right for you." the task force recommendations widely challenged by the american cancer society and some breast cancer advocacy groups say that women ages 40 to 49 should not get routine mammograms unless they're at risk for breast cancer and that women ages 50 to 74 should be screened but only every two years.

    >> it is confusing, having them revisit what's been going on for years about the promotion of make sure you get your mammogram, make sure you do yourself exam.

    >> reporter: these new recommendations are in contrast to the standing recommendation to start screening at 40.

    >> reach for the handle.

    >> reporter: and to get a mammogram annually.

    >> we have had significant continuing substantial declines in deaths as a result of mammography and better treatment. i just can't in my heart ignore what we've already seen as a result of the programs we have in place.

    >> reporter: many are asking why secretary sebelius came out with this statement today and after all the backlash from advocacy groups , women , and their doctors whether today's statement puts politics before science. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.

    >> well, this afternoon we asked

msnbc.com news services
updated 11/18/2009 7:34:45 PM ET 2009-11-19T00:34:45

Women should continue getting regular mammograms starting at age 40, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday, moving to douse confusion caused by a task-force recommendation two days earlier.

Sebelius issued her statement following a government panel's recommendation on Monday, that said most women don't need mammograms in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50.

That recommendation was a break with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position that women should get screening mammograms starting at age 40.

The task force does "not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government," Sebelius said.

Medicare, which covers older Americans and some younger ones who are disabled, provides women on Medicare coverage for an annual mammogram at age 40 and older.

Sebelius noted that there has been debate about the age at which routine 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," she said. "Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action."

" Video: Mammogram policy 'has not changed,' Sebelius says My message to women is simple. Mammograms have always been an important lifesaving 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," Sebelius said.

In the meantime, she added, it is clear that more research is needed into ways to help women prevent and fight breast cancer.

The recommendations from the task force have left women across the country confused about which advice to take. It also quickly led to charges from opponents of changing health care policy that it is an example of what could be expected from government-managed care.

In its report the panel of doctors and scientists concluded that such early and frequent screenings often lead to false alarms and unneeded biopsies, without substantially improving women's odds of survival.

But their recommendation was loudly criticized by breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed at a young age.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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