THE LAST WORD? Official U.S. health recommendations are usually issued in obscure government bulletins or scientific journals. But it was Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson himself who stepped to the podium last week to issue the government's final take on the mammography controversy that has raged for months among breast-cancer specialists. The bottom line: a strong endorsement of mammography and the current National Cancer Institute recommendation that women 40 and older get a mammogram every year or two.
"Mammography is an important and effective early-detection tool that helps to save lives," said Thompson, whose wife learned that she had breast cancer after having a mammogram seven years ago.
It was a sharp repudiation of breast screening's critics, who were galvanized last fall by a Danish review of the research suggesting that regular mammograms, rather than saving lives, might be doing more harm than good. The U.S., it turns out, had been conducting its own review of the same studies and concluded that they contained "fair evidence" that regular mammograms could reduce the risk of breast-cancer death by 23%-- especially for women over 50. Thompson conceded that the breast test was "not a perfect tool," but the take-home message, he says, is that the benefits of mammography outweigh the risks.
--By Sora Song