Accessibility links

Breaking News

Screening for Breast, Cervical Cancer: The New Advice

Latest guidelines from experts call for fewer mammograms and, for young women, fewer Pap tests. The mammogram changes produced a political storm. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Sometimes new health advice conflicts with old advice. Yet new guidelines last week for breast cancer testing in the United States created a storm of debate. The advice came from experts who are appointed by the government to develop guidelines for preventive services, like mammograms.

The experts advised most women to get fewer mammograms. They said the risk of needless treatment outweighs the good from more tests. The new advice is to get tested every two years, instead of yearly, and to start at age fifty instead of forty.

The task force must not consider medical costs. But critics accused the Obama administration of trying to limit mammograms to save money.

The administration pointed out that the current members of the group were appointed during the last administration. And officials said the study had begun long before the latest debate on health reform.

The House of Representatives passed health care legislation earlier this month. And the Senate agreed Saturday to begin full debate on its own bill.

The secretary of health and human services said the new advice would not affect government policies. Kathleen Sebelius advised women to "keep doing what you have been doing."

Some say they worry that health plans might pay for fewer mammograms now. But every state except Utah requires insurance companies to pay for testing women in their forties.

There appeared to be less reaction later in the week when a different group released new guidelines for cervical cancer testing. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the timing was just by chance.

The new guidelines say women age twenty-one to twenty-nine only need to get a Pap test every two years instead of yearly. Girls are advised to begin testing within three years of when they first have sex, or in any case no later than twenty-one.

A Pap test looks for abnormal cervical cells that could become cancer. Doctors may remove suspicious growths. But the experts say that in most cases in young women, these growths would go away by themselves. Removing them can lead to problems such as scarring and the need for Cesarean births later.

Cervical cancer is highly curable if it is found early. Pap tests have saved countless lives. Today most of the deaths are in countries with poor health care.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For more health news, go to I'm Barbara Klein.