USPSTF Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations Continue to Lag Behind Evidence

For immediate release
January 11, 2016
Contact: Caitlin Carmody, Communications Officer
(415) 243-9301 ccarmody@bcaction.org

Giving Tuesday BCAction logoSAN FRANCISCO, CA: Breast Cancer Action (BCAction), the nationally acclaimed watchdog for the breast cancer movement, today responded with disappointment that the much awaited recommendations on screening for breast cancer released by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) fail to follow the evidence on the harms and limitations of routine screening mammography.

BCAction Executive Director Karuna Jaggar says: “These recommendations maintain the status quo at a time when evidence is mounting that, unfortunately, widespread mammography screening for average-risk women is failing to save women’s lives. It has long been clear that we cannot screen our way out of this public health crisis.”

The USPSTF has come to remarkably similar conclusions as they did in 2009 despite new and powerful evidence on the limitations and harms of population-based mammography screening. The expert panel recommends biennial mammography screening for women ages 50-74 and states that for women in their 40s the decision for routine screening mammography is a personal one.

“The science has grown tremendously since the USPSTF’s last recommendations; however, the USPSTF’s recommendations have not,” said Jaggar. “It’s time to radically rethink the tenets of the breast cancer awareness movement. Screening is not, as promised, saving lives, and the fundamental philosophy behind “early detection” is flawed.”

In recent years, researchers have shown that the presumed benefits of mammography screening (reducing deaths from breast cancer) have been overstated, and the harms significantly underestimated. In particular, the harms of overdiagnosis and overtreatment have become clearer. Recent studies estimate that one in five women whose breast cancers are found by mammography screening end up receiving treatments they do not need and that have long-term health harms. The USPSTF recommendations rightly acknowledge but ultimately fail to adequately weigh these significant harms against the limited benefits of routine mammography screening.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the core of the USPSTF draft recommendations for breast cancer screening fails to respond to the tidal shift in data that undeniably questions the efficacy of population-level breast cancer screening,” lamented Jaggar. “Numerous other independent bodies are coming to the conclusion that population-level screening for women at average risk is hard to justify. Why has the USPSTF stayed the course with their recommendations for biennial screening for most middle-aged women despite evidence that these recommendations produce significant harm and limited benefit?”

Mainstream thinking on mammography screening has held tightly to widespread and frequent screening for average risk women but in recent years has slowly made modest moves toward following the evidence. In 2015 the American Cancer Society, long one of the most vocal proponents of routine mammography screening, increased the recommended age at which women start receiving mammograms.

In 2014, the New England Journal of Medicine published a strongly-worded perspective from the Swiss Medical Board concluding that mammography screening is “hard to justify.” Also in 2014, The British Medical Journal published the largest study on mammography to date which reported that screening healthy women using mammography to find breast cancers – before they could be felt as a lump in the breast – did not lead to lower death rates for average-risk women in their 40s and 50s.

And just last week, The British Medical Journal published an analysis of cancer screenings that stated: “Women should be told that to date, with over 600,000 women studied, there is no clear evidence of a reduction in overall mortality with mammography screening.”
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Breast Cancer Action (www.bcaction.org) is a national non-profit education and activist organization that refuses to accept corporate funding from companies or organizations that profit from or contribute to the breast cancer epidemic.

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