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July 13, 2010 > Making an Informed Choice

Making an Informed Choice

Free Lunch and Learn Seminar Examines New Mammogram Guidelines

Ever since the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) made changes late last year to its recommendations for screening mammograms, there have been a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty about an important topic.

The Washington Women's Center would like to bring the subject of mammograms into focus.

Next Thursday, July 22, Dr. Mimi Lin, Washington Hospital Medical Staff radiologist and champion of mammography at the hospital, will present a free Lunch and Learn seminar at the Washington Women's Center to take a closer look at these changes to screening guidelines and answer questions.

The USPSTF, an independent, voluntary body supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, issued new breast cancer screening guidelines that have since been criticized and challenged by cancer and breast health experts, which has left many women with a big question mark about a diagnostic tool Dr. Lin considers the medical community's best method of breast cancer detection.

Some of the statements and changes to previous guidelines by the USPSTF for women with no personal or family history of breast cancer include:
* Recommending against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years.
* Recommending that women aged 50 to 74 years undergo biennial screening mammography.
* Citing insufficient evidence to determine additional benefits and harms of screening mammography in women 75 years or older.
* Citing insufficient evidence to determine the additional benefits and harms of clinical breast exams (CBE) beyond screening mammography in women 40 years or older.
* Recommending against clinicians teaching women the technique of breast self-examination (BSE).
* Citing insufficient evidence to determine additional benefits and harms of either digital mammography or MRI vs. film mammography as screening modalities for breast cancer.

Kathy Hesser, R.N., clinical coordinator of the Washington Women's Center, says women in the community can unquestionably benefit from hearing from an expert in the field of breast imaging about the new guidelines.

"First, I think that it is important for women to know who comprised the group and that there were no experts in breast health on the panel," she says. "I also believe that it is also good for our women in the community to hear about our own statistics at the Women's Center in the battle against breast cancer."

Washington Hospital performs approximately 400 screening mammograms each month and, according to Hesser, the statistics show that screening does make a significant difference.

"Women I've spoken to at the Women's Center have been really glad that most of our ladies were finding their cancer early because of routine mammograms," she says.

During her talk, Dr. Lin will to present some of the statistics on cancer detection at the hospital, which Hesser says will reinforce the importance of knowing all the facts before making any changes to screening schedules.

"We primarily catch cancers in early stages, but the frightening thing is if you're not screening until your 50, the cancers that develop when you're in your 40s or 50s are usually the aggressive ones," Hesser points out.

Another often overlooked age group that could benefit from a closer look at the current screening recommendations, according to Dr. Lin, is ladies in their 70s.

"The risk of breast cancer increases with age," she says. "Women over the age
of 70 have the highest probability of developing breast cancer. There is no reason to discontinue annual mammography after the age of 74 - an arbitrary age chosen by the USPSTF - so long as the women is willing and able to undergo treatment in the event that a cancer is found."

Hesser adds that now that many women are living well into their 90s, there's all the more reason to catch and treat cancer early before it can spread.

"You should plan to discuss your personal risk for breast cancer and when and how often to get a mammogram at your annual health check up," she says.

For more information about the latest mammogram recommendations, join Dr. Lin for her Lunch and Learn seminar from noon to 1 p.m. next Thursday, July 22, at the Washington Women's Center, 2500 Mowry Ave., Suite 150, in Fremont.

To register for the free seminar, call (800) 963-7070 or visit To schedule an appointment for diagnostic breast imaging, call (510) 791-3410. (A physician's referral is required.)

For questions about services or programs at the Washington Women's Center, call
(510) 608-1301 or (866) 608-1301.

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