"Science is really under attack," said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We've spent decades building a scientific and research infrastructure and community all in order to produce the evidence that will save lives. Sometimes the science doesn't give us the answer we would like, but it actually gives us the facts and the evidence."
While some disagree with the task force's recommendations, its work is in line with a global push toward evidence-based medicine and with the guidelines of some other groups. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says there isn't enough evidence to recommend for or against mammograms for women between 40 and 49. Like the task force, the American College of Physicians says mammograms should be an individual decision for women between the ages of 40 and 49 and be provided every other year at the patient's request.
The task force and others found widespread screening often led to false positives, painful biopsies and life-altering operations for patients who were not actually at risk of cancer. Unnecessary screening also contributes to an overtreatment epidemic that the Institute of Medicine has estimated costs $210 billion a year.
Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chairwoman of the task force, is a internist and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. She said the attacks by Blackburn and others risk misleading patients about the effectiveness of screening for patients who are not at risk and are free of symptoms. "Patients and clinicians need to understand the benefits and the harms so they are empowered to make the best decisions for themselves," Bibbins-Domingo said.
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