Breast cancer specialists are hoping that the National Cancer
Advisory Board, which meets today in Rockville, Md., will
succeed where another panel failed and come up with specific
recommendations about when women should receive mammograms.
An advisory panel of the National Institutes of Health, after
three days of hearings in January, could not reach a consensus
on the issue. Instead, the panel recommended that women consult
That conclusion startled breast cancer experts who had expected
the panel, in light of new Swedish data, to recommend that
starting at age 40 women routinely have breast X-rays.
The Swedish data showed a 24 percent reduction in death rates
for women who received mammograms in their 40s. However, the
consensus panel noted that the reduction in mortality was
apparent only after seven years of screening.
"That just adds to the confusion in the lay press and the
medical community and will result in some women dying
unnecessarily," said D. David Dershaw, director of the breast
imaging section of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in
The American Cancer Society, the National Breast Cancer
Coalition and other advocacy groups were outraged at the lack of
action. Even the Senate responded with a resolution, passed
unanimously, asking the National Cancer Institute to reissue
guidelines recommending that women in their 40s seek routine
Even the man who convened the January panel, Richard Klausner,
director of the National Cancer Institute, is convinced that the
evidence supports mammogram for women in their 40s.
So why didn't a panel of 13 cancer specialists and survivors
come up with the same conclusion?
The Times-Union put that question to Dershaw and other breast
cancer specialists last week at the second annual
Multidisciplinary Symposium on Breast Disease at Amelia Island.
Lawrence Bassett, professor of breast imaging at the UCLA
School of Medicine in Los Angeles, said only specialists who had
not taken a public stand on the issue of mammograms were chosen
for the panel and a majority were opposed to screening young
women with breast X-rays.
Rather than focusing on the new Swedish data, the panelists
focused on negative factors such as the anxiety women
experience, the fears of radiation exposure, the occurrence of
false readings and the costs of unnecessary biopsies, Bassett