Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Partnership for Prevention and 10 of the nation's leading health and prevention organizations have sent a letter to Congress defending the recent recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force regarding breast cancer screening and set the record straight about recent public misstatements regarding the recommendations.

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force was established as an independent body to apply rigor and objectivity to the analysis of clinical preventive care – even on issues that arouse passions and political posturing,” the organization leaders said in a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.., and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. “The misstatements we have noted are evidence of both of these dangers, and the Task Force is our best defense against both.

“Our common goal is for preventive services to improve the health of all Americans,” they continued. “We believe the Task Force is the best way to ensure we’re guided toward that goal by recommendations of experts who are guided by science, and only by science.”

The letter was signed by leaders of the following organizations: American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, American Academy of Physician Assistants, American College of Physicians, American College of Preventive Medicine, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, American Public Health Association, National Association of County and City Health Officials, Partnership for Prevention, Public Health Institute, and Trust for America’s Health.

Waxman and Barton are the chairman and ranking Republican of a House committee that held a Dec. 2 hearing on the USPSTF recommendations.

The letter, a copy of which is available online at
specifically addressed three misstatements:

The Task Force recommends that women aged 40 – 49 not receive mammograms. “The Task Force does not recommend that all women in this age group automatically start receiving mammograms at age 40.” the letter states. “Rather, it simply recommends that those women and their health care professionals have a full discussion about the potential pros and cons of screening. This allows the patient to incorporate information about her family history, overall health, and personal values and preferences along with the best scientific information into the decision-making process.

“The result is an empowered patient who is able to make an informed decision about whether or not to be tested. In fact, many women may choose to continue mammography because they value the small chance that they might benefit, but other women may choose to defer beginning mammograms until the balance of benefits and risks is more favorable.”

The Task Force recommendations were intended to reduce costs. “The Task Force never uses cost as a reason to recommend against a service that has been proven to be effective,” the letter states. “In its review of the evidence about breast cancer screening, the Task Force had a single objective – to determine how to maximize the health of women.”

Members of the Task Force are not qualified to make scientific recommendations. “Since its inception (in 1984), it has been recognized as the authoritative source for determining the effectiveness of clinical preventive services, and its methods have been adapted by guidelines groups worldwide,” the letter says. “While this small group of distinguished health care professionals and researchers is largely unknown to the general public, its work is well known to clinicians in preventive and primary care practice...The preventive services recommended by the Task Force have prevented hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of premature deaths and averted needless harms.


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