Critics Still Outraged on Mammogram Ruling

A woman is videotaped receiving a mammogram for the Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, broadcast of the "CBS Evening News."
A woman is videotaped receiving a mammogram for the Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009, broadcast of the "CBS Evening News."

In doctor's offices nationwide, women who believe in routine mammograms are still asking how did this happen?

"It's really an outrage," one patient named Margarita told CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

How did some of the nation's best medical experts on the U.S. Prevention Test Force rule "against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49."

"This is what saves lives," one Dr. McCombs told Andrews while pointing to a mammogram.

"My life has been saved by two mammograms before age 50," Margarita told Andrews.

Members of the panel, including its vice chair Dr. Diana Petitti, brush aside suggestions the findings were based on cost. They say it was all about science, studies showing that for women in their 40s relatively few cancers get detected compared to the numerous false positive tests that lead women to get unneeded biopsies.

"False positives are a bad thing for women themselves," Petitti told Andrews.

For most doctors, false positives are scary but not life threatening. And so the controversy is where exactly is the harm with routine mammograms?

Deep in the report, the crucial finding is there.

For women in their forties, the panel concluded, only one life is saved for every 1,900 mammograms. For women in their 50s, where routine exams are still recommended, one life was saved for every 1,300 tests. This is breakdown doctors are questioning. Why is one life in 1,300 tests a benefit to women, but 1 in 1,900 makes mammograms a risk. And is this really science or a gut call?

"The task force would like to think it's science; there are many people who do feel it's a value judgement," Dr. Lichtenfeld with the American Cancer Society told Andrews.

The society and others also question why the expert panel does not have a practicing cancer physician.

"Those of us in the field know that their motivations were not to save women's lives," Dr. Harold Marks told Andrews.

Congress plans to wade into the debate. A House subcommittee has asked task force members to explain the decision and address why a test that saves thousands of women in their forties each year was still found to be ineffective.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.