Earlier this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent group of doctors and health-care experts, issued draft recommendations on mammography for women at various ages. Their recommendations could lead to insurance companies dropping coverage of mammograms for women under age 50, as well as other preventive techniques that would help protect young women from getting breast cancer and help those who do have it.
This is a wrong and dangerous path to take.
For me, this is a deeply personal fight. In 2007, at 41, I discovered a lump in my breast that turned out to be cancer. I didn’t find this tumor through luck, I found it because I knew about the risks that cancer poses, and I knew that I had the responsibility to follow guidelines about my breast health --guidelines that ultimately may have saved my life.
Almost everyone in this nation has been personally affected by breast cancer. It affects our mothers, our daughters and our sisters, as well as some men.
The facts are sobering:
One in every eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.
Black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer.
Ashkenazi Jewish women like me are five times more likely to have a mutation to the BRCA gene that drastically increases the likelihood of getting breast or ovarian cancer.
And most staggering of all: On the same day these draft recommendations became public, the National Cancer Institute announced that the total number of breast cancer cases in this country will rise by 50 percent by 2030. In 2011, there were 283,000 diagnosed cases of breast cancer in the United States. By 2030, the number of cases will jump to 441,000 cases.
This staggering increase will strike women from all backgrounds, races and ethnicities. It will strike the rich and the poor, those with access to quality health care and those with little or no health care. It will affect women under 40 and those over 40. And it is more likely to target African American women in more aggressive forms.
It is these particulars that cause alarm. When a woman and her physician decide that she needs a mammogram, she should not have to worry about whether her insurance will cover this service. Catching cancer early can save costly procedures down the road, ensure that a woman can remain active and productive in the workforce, and most importantly, save her life.
Yet with the demand for preventive services growing, the USPSTF chose to move away from recommending such screening at an early age. Their recommendations would cause women to defer proactively considering their breast cancer prevention options and actually getting mammograms – even when we know that early intervention is the surest way to beat breast cancer. We know that mammograms are not perfect, but we also know that deferring them until after age 50 is dangerous.
When the USPSTF issued these same draft recommendations in 2009, I, my Senate colleague Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), many other members of Congress and concerned groups led a fight to ensure that these recommendations would not prohibit women from getting the preventive services they need. And we won.
I will stand with my colleagues and advocates again to ensure that all women continue to get the coverage for preventive screenings they need. We have time, but not much. The comment period is still open on these draft recommendations, and I urge the USPSTF to reverse its recommendation and avoid the needless deaths that will inevitably result when women between 40 and 50 don’t get mammograms, believing that the experts said it would be unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.
After my diagnosis, I underwent seven surgeries to ensure that I would survive and see my children grow up. As a mother, my priority is making sure that my children have all the tools they need to lead healthy, full lives. As a member of Congress, my priority is to do the same for the families I represent.
Wasserman Schultz (D) represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.