The American Cancer Society on Sunday recommended that women in their 40s undergo routine annual mammograms, a move that will further accelerate the ongoing national debate over what in recent years has become one of the most volatile issues in modern medicine.
The action represented a change from the society’s current recommendation, which is that women in this age group have mammograms every one to two years.
It also presaged an announcement expected Thursday from the National Cancer Institute, which is expected to return to its pre-1993 position of urging regular routine screenings every one to two years in women aged 40-49.
The institute has been under heavy pressure from Congress, the medical community and others to reverse itself; and its National Cancer Advisory Board - a panel of outside experts that advises the institute - has been re-examining the issue in light of additional research.
In a phone interview Sunday night, Dr. Richard Klausner, the director of the cancer institute - which is part of the National Institutes of Health - refused to elaborate on the coming recommendations, saying only:
“I do not think that the recommendations of the (National Cancer Advisory) board and the recommendation of the American Cancer Society will be significantly at odds. I think they will be very compatible.”
The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society are regarded as the two most influential cancer policy-making bodies in the United States.
The cancer society’s changed recommendation is intended to ease the pressure and confusion on women in their 40s who do not know what to do, said Dr. Myles P. Cunningham, society president.
“We are confident that these guidelines will save lives,” he said.
The society’s board of directors agreed to the new guideline on Saturday and announced it Sunday during a science writers seminar sponsored by the society.
The issue has been one of the most hotly argued in medicine in recent years, and was further fueled by a report issued by a federal advisory panel in January recommending that women age 40-49 make their own individual decisions about what to do.