Bioethics Blogs

Reconsidering Cancer Screening Programs October 22, 2015 Screening saves lives, but not ever…

October 22, 2015

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Director of the Bioethics Program

In a public commentary that aired a little over a year ago, I caused quite a stir when I discussed the case of Amy Robach, the then-40-year-old ABC News correspondent who was diagnosed with breast cancer after receiving an on-air mammogram conducted as part of a Good Morning America story about cancer screening programs. Ms. Robach underwent a double mastectomy shortly after her diagnosis and is currently cancer free.

In that commentary, I raised concerns about the message that story presented to the American public about the utility of breast cancer screening programs. Specifically, I worried about the idea, promoted by organizations like the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, that all women should undergo screening as early as age 40. Best safe than sorry, right?

But not everyone recommends routine mammography for women starting at the age of 40 — including women like Amy Robach — unless they have a familial history of breast cancer. Those are the cancer guidelines issued in 2009 by the US Preventative Services Task Force, an independent and non-partisan group of healthcare experts. The Preventative Services Task Force concluded that most women should not undergo regular mammography until they are at least 50 years old.

This recommendation may seem counterintuitive. After all, breast cancer is a very serious public health issue. There are few families that it hasn’t touched, including mine. My aunt Kathryn recently passed after battling breast cancer for nearly two decades.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.