Lawmakers tell HHS to ignore new mammogram guidance

Several lawmakers who have survived breast cancer are urging the Obama administration to oppose new recommendations that say women under age 50 shouldn’t be screened annually for the disease.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Virginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters MORE (D-N.D.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) – who have both battled breast cancer – joined 60 other members of Congress to condemn recent guidance from an independent panel of medical experts, which advises against regular mammograms for younger women.

“As a breast cancer survivor, I personally understand the importance of preventive care to make sure more women can avert this disease or at least detect it early on,” Heitkamp wrote in a statement Wednesday.


“As a young survivor of breast cancer, I know how vital it is for young women to actively manage their breast health,” Wasserman Schultz added.

The backlash from the draft recommendation has been fierce. The debate has pitted groups like the American Cancer Society against Breast Cancer Action, which penned an op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday entitled, "Stop routine breast cancer screenings.”

The lawmakers wrote in their letter to the Department of Health and Human Services that the recommendation could ultimately mean that cases of breast cancer go undetected in women across the country – particularly those with fewer means to pay for the tests.

“Years of science and medicine have shown that appropriate screening can lead to early detection and save lives,” the group of senators wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended last month that fewer women should receive biennial mammograms if they are not at high-risk for developing the disease. Similar guidance was also issued in 2009, which received similarly strong opposition and was essentially shelved.  

Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? MORE (D-Calif.) has already penned an open letter to Burwell, arguing that the recommendation “threatens to erode” mammogram benefits that already exist under a law that she helped pass.