The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s revised recommendations on breast cancer screenings are yet another example of the danger inherent in a government takeover of health care. For the past several years, women have been encouraged to begin routine mammogram screening at age 40, and visit the doctor yearly; the panel’s new recommendations delay screening now until age 50, and receive screenings every other year until age 74.

The panel also suggests that breast self-examinations are not worthwhile, and should be discontinued. Between this recommendation and the revised screening timeline, the panel’s message is clear: breast cancer is not a health care priority, which is a slap in the face to the 2.5 million survivors in the U.S. For many individuals, mammograms and breast self-exams gives them greater peace of mind. No government guidelines should deter those people from seeking the care they think they need.

The frightening bottom line is this: the possible harm resulting from false-positive results for a few people outweighs the value of the few lives that could be saved by early detection.  The National Institute of Health’s department of Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results statistics for breast cancer show that 59.4 out of 100,000 women ages 40-44 were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 94 out of 100,000 women ages 45-49 from 2002-2006. Every single one of those women deserves a fighting chance – and their best chance is early detection, particularly in the absence of a cure.

Women are told of the risks that are involved with mammograms and self-exams, and the potential of receiving a false-positive result. However, as I’ve written before, it should be up to an individual to determine if they want to be screened, and what to do with their results. That choice should be made by a patient and their doctor – not the government.

Women are responsible for health care decisions both for themselves and their families and we should encourage them to play an active role. Ceding this authority to an appointed panel is frightening. The panel insists its decision is not based upon cost or political calculations, which may be true – today. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that Congress’ plans will end up more expensive than they are currently forecast to be, and that they will have to cut costs in the future. Rationing care is certain to be one of the ways to do so – and as such, “recommended” cuts to mammograms today are likely to spread to many other treatment areas.