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Making Sense of Cancer Screening Updates
Date:12/20/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- As experts alter course on guidelines for cancer screenings such as mammograms and the prostate-specific antigen test, the general public is understandably confused.

Women at age 40 wonder if they should have a mammogram to look for breast cancer or wait until 50, as one U.S. organization suggests. Men of an age when prostate cancer develops may be told to forgo the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, contrary to standard past practice. And sexually active women may not feel safe from cervical cancer if they wait years between Pap tests.

"It's difficult to accept that having less testing is either as good or even better than having more," said Dr. Robert Mayer, faculty vice president for academic affairs at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Based on new research, some major cancer groups are advising the medical profession to be more judicious about who gets tested and when.

"I don't think the data are as conclusive that screening is as bad or as good as we had hoped," said Dr. David Penson, professor of urologic surgery and director of surgical quality and outcomes research at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Probably the most controversial recommendation came from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a government body that publishes screening guidelines. It set off a furor two years ago when it announced that mammograms may not benefit women in their 40s, while women aged 50 to 74 could safely undergo screening once every two years instead of annually.

This year, the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care came out with similar recommendations on breast cancer screening, suggesting that women aged 40 to 49 at average risk for breast cancer not get routine mammograms.

This, of course, runs counter to long-standing conventional wisdom that all women over the age of 40 should un
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