Military Stands By Women

December 13, 2009

While a federal advisory panel has issued new recommendations regarding Pap smear and mammogram schedules, military medical officials say they won't change their current standards for screening women for breast and cervical cancers. In early November of 2009, a government task force issued an announcement that women should receive a baseline mammogram at 50 and then every two years. However, Dr. (Lieutenant Colonel) Charles Tujo, the head of radiology at the Germany-based Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, proclaimed that the hospital will continue the long-held standards of the American Cancer Society that call for women to begin screening for breast cancer at age 40.

Tremendous Risk

Tujo explains that it is the younger women who are at risk for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. He believes that this makes foregoing the earlier mammograms a tremendous risk. "The older a woman gets the less aggressive the cancer. So, while we want to pick up all cancers, I’m more concerned about that 42-year-old to get her cancer because that’s the one that might kill her," said Tujo.

Regarding a different medical issue, the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) has changed its belief that women must have annual Pap smears, instead recommending that Pap smears be given only every two years for women in their 20's. Col. Richard B. Jackson, Landstuhl's chief of obstetrics and gynecology says this recommendation won't affect the military since family members are instructed to follow their gynecologists' recommendations which already include offering biannual smears to patients in their 20's and once in three years for women in their third decade.

False Alarms?

The debate surrounding mammogram recommendations was begun when a panel of experts appointed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services known as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that early, frequent screening tests lead to unnecessary biopsies and false alarms, yet don't really improve a woman's odds for survival. But Tujo disagrees. "It’s the feeling at LRMC and myself," he explains, "that spending the additional money to begin screening at 40 is worth it."

Tujo and fellow staff members will take the time to speak with their women patients before they recommend a biopsy. They give a full explanation of the risks, for instance trauma to the breast or possible infection. Patients and doctors make the decisions together as a team. Tujo also makes the point that in order to detect early cancer; a doctor is bound to perform a certain number of benign biopsies.

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