Senate Minority Leader John McKinney Expresses Outrage at New Recommendations Delaying Cancer Screening for Women

November 20, 2009

Urges Connecticut Physicians, Insurance Companies to Continue to Provide Life-Saving Tests

Hartford, CT – State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield) today expressed outrage at two new reports recommending a drastic reduction in routine cancer screenings for women. He also urged health professionals and insurance companies alike to disregard the recommendations and continue to administer the life-saving tests as needed. Senator McKinney’s call comes after the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) this week advised delaying annual mammograms for women until the age of fifty, setting aside the customary benchmark age of forty. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) this week recommended that doctors administer cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears, later in a woman’s life and less frequently.

“News this week from the medical community is a setback for women’s health,” said Senator McKinney. “Both the USPSTF and the ACOG claim mammograms and pap smears respectively have been administered too frequently and with too little benefit. This is nonsense. Ask a woman whose yearly mammogram found the malignant tumor in her breast before it spread to her lymph nodes if she agrees. Or ask a woman whose annual pap smear uncovered human papillomavirus (HPV) before it turned into full-blown cervical cancer if she would rather have waited to get tested. Would these women say the benefits of routine testing are ‘too little’? There is no way around it – these tests save lives.”

Senator McKinney pointed to the 2009 Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures report by the American Cancer Society. The report attributes much of the drop in breast cancer-related deaths in the U.S. since 1990 to early detection. The report also states that because of this early detection, 61% of breast cancers are diagnosed at a “localized” stage. This translates to an average five-year survival rate of 98%. With respect to cervical cancer, the same report finds that the occurrence and mortality rates have dropped 67% over the past thirty years. The report attributes this drop in part to the increase in pap smears. In fact, the report says for women whose pap smears have detected precancerous lesions, the likelihood of survival is nearly 100% if they get the appropriate treatment.

“The decisions you make about caring for your body should be between you and your doctor alone, not a government task force or panel,” said Senator McKinney. “For years, research and sheer numbers have demonstrated the importance of early detection and prevention in the fight against disease, particularly with cancers. If you and your doctor feel you need a mammogram or a pap smear, then you should have one and it should be covered by your insurance. It’s as simple as that.”

Much of the public outcry sparked by these new guidelines has been centered on the possibility of insurance companies denying coverage for testing done outside the recently suggested parameters. In Connecticut, however, state law requires insurance companies to cover these life-saving tests. According to Connecticut State Statute (Sec. 38a-503), insurance companies must provide coverage for a baseline mammogram for any woman who is thirty-five to thirty-nine years of age and a mammogram every year for any woman who is forty years of age or older. With respect to pap smears, according to Connecticut State Statute (Sec. 38a-503b), insurance companies must provide female enrollees with direct access to a gynecologist for primary and preventive obstetric gynecologic services. These services include, but are not limited to, pap smears.

“There is no question the medical and insurance industries are facing enormous financial pressures while staring down a potential government overhaul,” said Senator McKinney. “But cutting back on potentially life-saving tests is not the way to cut costs or streamline operations. Simple common sense dictates that some of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of healthcare is to catch disease as early as possible and practice preventive medicine. More than this, continuing to provide life-saving testing and treatment is just the right thing to do.”