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Gynecologist: 'Pardon my cynicism' over new mammogram guidelines

To the editor: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is once again recommending mammograms only every other year starting at age 50. It argues that more frequent mammograms don't save lives and subject women to the "stress" of false positives. ("Breast cancer screening recommendations clarify science but muddy political waters," Jan. 11)

Pardon my cynicism, but this isn't about stress; it's about money.

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Mortality should not be the only standard in determining the frequency of breast-cancer screening. No one talks about the morbidity of discovering a cancer when it is bigger and has already spread to the lymph nodes. Instead of a lumpectomy and radiation, larger cancers require chemotherapy and sometimes a mastectomy.

I don't know many women with cancer who wouldn't have happily traded a year of nausea, exhaustion and hair loss for the stress of a false positive.

In 30 years as a practicing gynecologist, I've discovered many early breast cancers in women in their 40s and many early cancers in older women a year after a normal mammogram. Let us not confuse the desire to save healthcare dollars with what is best for women.

Paula Bernstein, MD, Los Angeles

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To the editor: The new guidelines for mammograms are, at best, confusing. At worst, there are two obvious messages:

First, women over 74 are disposable, and second, as with previous guidelines, women under 40 are forgotten.

Billions of dollars have been thrown in cancer's direction since my mother found a (cancerous) lump in her breast when she was 28. Decades later, that cancer would not be caught any earlier.

Women in their prime child-bearing years deserve more attention than the cancer "industry" has been willing to give them.

Betty Rome, Culver City 

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