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New Breast Cancer Guidelines: Will They Lead to More Undiagnosed Cases?

For women in Pittsburgh who have an average risk of developing breast cancer, the time to begin regular mammograms and breast cancer screening has long been debated. In fact, the three largest breast cancer organizations - American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Cancer Society, and U.S. Preventative Services Task Force - all suggest different ages that a woman should begin regular screening. Recently, the American Cancer Society has changed its guidelines in a controversial move from 40 years old, to 45. This comes after a study suggesting that mammograms are actually more harmful for younger women than helpful.

However, critics to the changes explain that the American Cancer Society has used information from studies using film mammograms rather than the current technology, digital mammograms. The organization explains that they have changed their guidelines because mammograms deliver a false-positive result often, causing women to undergo unnecessary and painful testing only to discover they were never at risk. That risk is decreased significantly with digital mammograms, which deliver a much clearer image than the film mammograms used in the study that impacted the American Cancer Society's decision.

The American Cancer Society also came under fire for their new guidelines because critics claim the society only considered whether the screening saved a woman's life, rather than catching cancer in the early stages (Cohen). Mammograms are meant to not only for save lives, but to catch cancer earlier, avoiding more life-threatening and disfiguring procedures such as chemotherapy and mastectomies. Dr. Marisa Weiss says, "The American Cancer Society made the value judgment that screening is only worth it if it improves survival. There's an arrogance to that. Let women decide what's meaningful to them" (Cohen).

Health experts are now concerned that with the American Cancer Society guideline changes, women will soon become fed-up with the testing process, causing "potential havoc in the day-to-day process of caring for women," says Dr. Christopher Zahn (Cohen). The major concern is whether or not insurance companies will begin to refuse coverage of regular screening until age 45, following the new guidelines.

Without the backing from the American Cancer Society for earlier breast cancer screenings, it's unsure what insurance companies may do. Currently, most insurances will cover breast cancer screenings at age 40, but with the new guidelines, the insurance companies will be reviewing their policies (Cohen). Its possible insurance companies may choose not to cover women younger than 45 who wish to begin breast cancer screening, meaning more cases may go undiagnosed until more serious treatments are needed to treat the cancer. Unfortunately, insurance companies cannot be held liable for refusing to cover an initial breast examination and mammogram in a patient who does not have any current signs or symptoms of having breast cancer. Meaning, women who are at a low-to-average risk may delay receiving regular breast examinations, possibly causing more cases of delayed diagnosis once they reach the age set by the American Cancer Society guidelines.

If a medical professional fails to diagnose, misdiagnoses, or delays the diagnosis of breast cancer, action can be taken. Unfortunately, Health experts are concerned that with these guideline changes women will soon become fed-up with the testing process, causing "potential havoc in the day-to-day process of caring for women," says Dr. Christopher Zahn (Cohen).

The lawyers at Rosen Louik & Perry have represented clients in medical malpractice cases who have been both misdiagnosed with cancer, and clients who have suffered from the failure to diagnose cancer. Either case can lead to devastating results, including death. Though undergoing unnecessary testing and procedures due to a misdiagnosis or a false-positive test can be life altering, early screenings have the ability to alert women of their condition before such testing is necessary.  If you or a loved one have been misdiagnosed, have experienced a delay in diagnoses, or were failed to be diagnosed with breast cancer, you'll need a lawyer who has your best interests in mind. Let us take care of delivering justice to those responsible, you worry about getting better. Request a free consultation from our experts.

Source: cnn.com, "New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines: Screen Later, Less Often," Elizabeth Cohen, Nov. 9, 2015

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