Deal tells government to ignore new breast cancer screening guidelines

The newly unveiled budget deal would require the U.S. government to officially recommend breast cancer screenings at age 40 instead of 50 for the near future — ignoring new guidelines from a key government health panel.

The provision in the 2,000-page budget deal is a victory for lawmakers like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and more than a dozen advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society, which have led the fight against a growing number of doctors opposed to earlier screenings.

Under the budget text, the U.S. health department is told to follow its existing mammogram screening recommendations until at least 2018, rather than implement the advice from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.


"This 'time-out' would allow for concerns from the medical and advocacy community to be addressed, while ensuring women’s continued access to lifesaving breast screening," a coalition of group wrote in a joint statement Wednesday.

That group, an independent panel of medical experts, this summer advised against regular mammograms for younger women. The group recommended that only women aged 50 years and up should receive biennial mammograms if they are not at high risk for developing the disease.

Wasserman Schultz, along with 60 other lawmakers, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services this summer, arguing 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.

Health insurance companies often look to the recommendations from the U.S. health panel when deciding which services should be covered. 

Similar guidance was also issued in 2009 — and received similarly strong opposition but was essentially shelved after pushback from lawmakers including Wasserman Schultz, who is a breast cancer survivor.

- This post was updated Wednesday at 12:08 p.m.