Information on the panel that recommended this week that women stop doing breast self-exams and start mammograms every other year at age 50, Currently, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend yearly mammograms after age 40 and both are standing by those guidelines.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the panel that created the new guidelines, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That agency comes under the direction of Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who opposes the recommendations, supporting existing standards.

It seems we have a bit of a failure of communication here. Did the panel just make its recommendations without checking with the brass first? Or did they run the new standards by Sebelius’s staff, which did not see the army of red flags attached to such a controversial, confusing proposal?

Whatever the case, the NCI, ACS, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services all oppose the new guidelines.

Meanwhile, who are the members of the task force that came up with this brilliant plan? The panel consists of 16 medical professionals:

Seven men, including the chair, Bruce N. Calonge, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Nine women, including vice chair Dianne Petittie, MD, MPH, Professor of Biomedical Informatics
Fulton School of Engineering
Arizona State University. (see NOTE below)

•13 MDs

• 4 Ph.Ds, 2 of whom have backgrounds in nursing

• 8 are administrators of some type

• 13 are academics

• 1 is primarily a practicing professional

• Not one member is a breast cancer surgeon.

It looks like we have quite a few members who are removed from actual patients, members for whom research may have no human face. There were no breast surgeons and there were only two nurses, although they were no longer working in nursing. (As any breast cancer survivor knows, nurses are the real forces behind treatment.) The women did outnumber the men, but only barely. And, of course, what is really lacking on the panel, as is the case on most medical boards, are patients. Breast cancer survivors. People who understand what this all actually means to women’s lives, who know that women are already frightened about breast cancer and don’t need more confusing guidelines and a seemingly heartless understanding of the benefits of mammograms and self exams.

NOTE: Did you wonder, as I did, what Biomedical Informatics is all about? Here’s an explanation from the Arizona State University’s website:

Biomedical informatics, check here. is an emergent field, grounded in the principles of computer and information sciences, telecommunications, mathematics and statistics, cognitive and social sciences, biological signal processing, clinical and basic biological and medical science, decision science, epidemiology and biostatistics, and public health. In accordance with the definition by the American College of Medical Informatics and supported by the National Institutes of Health, the taskforce uses the term “biomedical informatics” to describe the union of computing and informatics with basic biological and medical research, clinical practice, imaging, and public health.

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