WASHINGTON — The new guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) recommending fewer breast cancer screenings and beginning them at a later age have sparked heated debate across the nation. Nowhere are they more hotly contested than among African-American physicians and health care professionals, some who say the new guidelines could lead to the deaths of thousands of African-American women who otherwise might have been saved through early detection.
The subject comes into full focus as MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and a panel of distinguished experts, including health care activists, government officials and the nation’s leading cancer physicians and health care professionals, tackle the subject from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, April 12, in the Howard University Hospital Towers Auditorium, 2041 Georgia Ave. NW.
Included on the panel are Jenny Luray, president of the Komen Advocacy Alliance and senior vice president of government affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, cancer researcher, former president of the American Cancer Society and the Society of Surgical Oncology and professor of surgery at Howard University College of Medicine; Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon and chair of the conservative advocacy group Arizonans for Health Care Freedom; U.S. Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democratic delegate to Congress from the U.S. Virgin Islands; Dr. Worta McCaskill Stevens, head of Breast Prevention and the Minority-based Clinical Community Oncology Program for the National Cancer Institute, and Dr. Charles P. Mouton, chair of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital.
The Howard University Cancer Center and the Howard University Hospital Department of Surgery are hosting the discussion.
The USPTF recommended in November that women begin mammograms at age 50 instead of age 40, although women in their 40s account for 20 percent of breast cancer patients. Additionally, the task force recommended women get mammograms every other year rather than annually.
Dr. Edward Cornwell, Howard University Hospital surgeon in chief and chair of the Department of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine, said he was pleased to have such a diverse group discuss a challenging subject.
“This topic is critically important, because medical professionals, policy makers and the public need a fuller understanding of the implications of these guidelines.” Cornwell said. “They can be truly significant in the health care of women, and particularly among African-American women.
Dr. Wayne Frederick, director of the Howard University Cancer Center and chief of the Division of General Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine, agrees.
“This change in the guidelines is going to have a significant impact on African-American women, and I don’t think it will be for the good,” Frederick said. “Although they are less likely to get breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die from the disease.”
Part of the reason for their higher death rate is because African-American women are already less likely to get the life-saving mammograms that detect cancers in the early, more treatable stages, Frederick said.
“My concern is that these recommendations could cause African-American women to get fewer breast screenings than they do now, and they are already far too low,” he said. “Consequently, we would have even more African-Americans who come to us with later stages disease, which makes it harder to treat and makes the outcomes worse.”
Additionally, he said, African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with the types of breast cancer that are harder to treat.
“We believe that is also part of the reason for the higher death rate,” he said. “That is even more reason for them to get regular screenings and to begin at an earlier age.”
The symposium, entitled “Changing Cancer Screening Guidelines and the Effects on Cancer Disparities,” is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. For more information and to RSVP please contact 202.806.7697.