Trends in Breast Cancer Mortality in the United States
By: Rogelio Saenz
Source: Population Reference Bureau
Recent recommendations from the U.S. government suggesting a relaxation in the age women should begin undergoing regular mammography exams have raised major debate and concerns.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women in their 40s forego routine mammography exams until they turn 50, at which time they should have the procedure done every two years. The report came on the heels of a debate in the medical community initiated months earlier with the publication of an article that suggested the benefits of early mammography screening were exaggerated, with false-positive detections too easily disregarded.
Critics of the report have accused the task force of using cold cost/benefit analyses that could potentially overturn the reductions in breast cancer deaths over the last couple of decades. Many fear that the recommendations represent the rationing of health care and that the health insurance industry will use the new guidelines to block access to mammography exams to women younger than 50.
According to the American Cancer Society, death rates associated with breast cancer have declined since 1990 at about 2 percent per year for women 50 and older and 3.2 percent annually among those younger than 50. Early detection of breast cancer through regular mammograms has been credited as one of the primary reasons behind the declining death rate from breast cancer.
Despite the decline, the disease continues to inflict a heavy toll on women in the United States. In 2009, approximately 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer, while roughly 192,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with the disease. There are also substantial race and ethnic gaps in breast cancer mortality rates, which could potentially increase under the newly proposed guidelines.