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November 18, 2009

New breast cancer advice draws fire

Some professionals not pleased with revised screening guidelines

TERRE HAUTE — As a breast cancer survivor, Sue Jarvis understands the importance of early detection.

Her discovery of a small lump during a self-exam eventually led to a cancer diagnosis, and her battle with the disease took her through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

In February, she’ll be a 15-year cancer survivor.

Understanding the importance of early detection, Jarvis is floored by new government task force recommendations that state most women don’t need a mammogram in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also stated in the new guidelines that breast self-exams do no good.

“That blows me away,” said Jarvis, who also is the Hux Cancer Center director of oncology services. “It’s so personal to me.”

She knows of many women in their 40s diagnosed with breast cancer. Mammograms and early detection “have saved their lives,” she said.

The task force recommendations “stirred a lot of conversation among our providers and specialists,” she said.

The Hux Cancer Center will continue to adhere to the recommendations of the American Cancer Society, which call for yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

Also for that age group, clinical breast exams done by a physician should be part of a woman’s annual health exam, Jarvis said, again based on American Cancer Society recommendations.

Jarvis believes that “early detection is protection” and it saves lives. She recommends that if women have questions, they talk to their physicians.

The government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women’s odds of survival, according to an Associated Press news story.

“The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s,” said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the panel.

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