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The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center In Nashville Weighs In On New Mammography Guidelines

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November 18, 2009

The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center in Nashville today announced that it will continue to support and recommend that its patients follow guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer established by the American Cancer Society.  The announcement comes on the heels of a new study released this week by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommending that women can wait until age 50 for their first mammogram and they only need to get the exams every two years.

“We know that twenty percent of all patients diagnosed with breast cancer are under the age of 50, and mammography contributes in large part to the early detection of the disease when it is most treatable,” said Ravi Chari, M.D., M.B.A, surgical oncologist, researcher and administrator for The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center Network based in Nashville, TN.  “When breast cancer is diagnosed at later stages, patients typically have higher risks of recurrence and breast cancer deaths.”

The government-funded  panel (USPSTF) of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving a woman’s odds of survival. Additionally, the panel found no benefit in women performing self-breast examinations and suggests the practice not be recommended.

Mark E. Cooper, M.D., surgeon, with The Surgical Clinic and The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center said he will continue to strongly encourage his patients to perform self-breast exams and get annual mammography screening after age 40.  “This study reviewed the data, but we all know that if tortured enough, data will confess anything,” said Dr. Cooper.

According to Dr. Cooper, mammography has been responsible for increasing the findings of ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) from 3 percent to 21 percent currently, and has increased the detection of early stage breast cancer from 25 percent to 42 percent.  “And, you certainly can’t deny the significance of declining mortality rates from breast cancer within the last 5 years due to screening mammography—39 percent less mortality than prior to 5 years ago,” said Dr. Cooper.

Denise Yardley, M.D., a breast cancer specialist at The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center and research program director at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute expressed concern about the confusion these new recommendations will create for women.  “It is so important for women to talk with their health care provider about their individual risks for breast cancer and for them to be an active and informed partner in their healthcare,” said Dr. Yardley. “Those conversations are all the more important now with these conflicting screening recommendations.”

According to Jeff Patton, M.D., chief medical officer of Tennessee Oncology, The Sarah Cannon Cancer Centers will continue to educate their patients and recommend they follow the American Cancer Society guidelines which include:

  • Routine breast self-examination so that women can become familiar with their own breasts and tell their doctor about any changes
  • Annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40, and
  • Clinical breast exams performed by a health care provider and recommended annually after age 40.

Sarah Cannon Cancer Center specialists all acknowledged that mammography is not a perfect tool. “In fact, mammography does produce some false positive results,” said Dr. Chari.  “But it is currently the best tool we have in our arsenal for early detection of breast cancer, and certainly our patients who are now breast cancer survivors credit it as life-saving, regardless of it imperfections.”

“To put it simply,” said Dr. Yardley “Catching breast cancer early through mammography saves lives. Telling women to delay routine screenings until age 50 will miss potentially curable breast tumors in younger women.”

Dr. Cooper agreed, “We need to focus our efforts on improving the technology to lower the mortality rate of the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.”

Dr. Patton said the cancer experts with The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center respect the USPS Task Force members, but at this time, are not ready to embrace their conclusions. “We expect in the coming months to see a great deal of further study and data analysis. We will take time to carefully analyze the results of further research to determine whether we need to change how we use mammography as a screening tool.”  

The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center (SCCC)
The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center (SCCC) is the largest community-based, privately funded, diagnostic and treatment center in the country. A network of 8 affiliated medical facilities in Tennessee and south Central Kentucky, SCCC is composed of physicians and teams who provide diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients throughout the region, allowing patients treatment and medical care in a community setting close to home.  Through the work of The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center and its network of more than 100 cancer experts in 2 states, more patients are benefiting from life-saving cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Tennessee Oncology
Tennessee Oncology is one of the largest physician-owned oncology practices in the Southeast.  Tennessee Oncology staffs thirty clinics in Middle Tennessee, providing state of the art treatment in communities closer to patients’ homes. The physicians of Tennessee Oncology provide the latest in diagnostic and treatment options including Clinical Trials, Bone Marrow Transplantation, Gynecologic Oncology and Radiation Oncology.  Tennessee Oncology offers the newest in cancer care options, while remaining committed to patient care and support.

Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI) 
SCRI, an industry leader in clinical trials, is dedicated to advancing therapies for patients. It is the largest community-based program in the nation, conducting studies in ten therapeutic areas through its affiliation with a powerful network of hundreds of physicians. Additionally, it offers management, regulatory and other research support services to drug development sponsors and strategic investigator sites across the country.

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