The federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced this week that it will adhere to American Cancer Society (ACS) breast cancer screening guidelines, a decision which won the applause of a South Florida congresswoman who had been urging the department adopt them.
Under the ACS guidelines, women are given the option to start screening when they turn 40. The guidelines call for women to start annual mammograms when they turn 45 before shifting to every two years when they reach 55.
This is a shift from the VA relying on guidelines from the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) which insisted there was less benefits for annual mammograms for women in their 40s.
Also this week, the VA also announced it is expanding onsite mammogram programs in it facilities even as female veterans are far more likely to have mammograms than other Americans. The VA also continues to rely on its Breast Cancer Registry (BCR) to coordinate data on cancer screenings, tests and treatment.
“It is important for our women veterans to know that they are in control of their care and the care they receive from VA is consistent with or exceeds care in the private sector,” said VA Sec. David Shulkin on Tuesday. “Adopting American Cancer Society standards gives veterans further assurances that their care aligns with other health-care systems."
“Engaging and better servicing the unique health-care needs of our women veterans is one of VA's most important priorities,” said Dr. Poonam Alaigh, currently the VA’s acting under secretary for health. “When it comes to their care, we want them to be in control of it every day and in every way.”
In recent years, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., herself a breast cancer survivor, has been a leading critic of the USPSTF guidelines, filing a bill earlier this month urging the VA to move over to the ACS recommendations. On Wednesday, the South Florida congresswoman said she was glad to see the VA change over to the ACS guidelines.
“I am thrilled that the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will shift from the controversial United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines for breast cancer screening and mammography to the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer screening guidelines,” Wasserman Schultz said. “For years, I have fought the USPSTF guidelines, along with other cancer experts and advocacy organizations. In the 114th Congress, I sponsored legislation that became law, which placed a moratorium on the USPSTF breast cancer screening guidelines, to allow breast cancer experts and organizations to review and reach consensus on when screening should begin. The law requires coverage for mammography beginning at age 40.
“Having recently learned that the VA previously adopted the USPSTF guidelines, I filed legislation last week after speaking with VA Secretary David Shulkin that would ensure that the widely accepted guidelines – which call for women to begin breast cancer screening at 40 – are required to be used by the VA for veterans and all women. I will continue to aggressively pursue this legislation,” she added. “Nonetheless, the announcement this week by Secretary Shulkin is a tremendous victory for women veterans who now formally have the choice to begin screenings at the age of 40, and be eligible for yearly exams at age 45. I will closely monitor how this policy is implemented, but it would be a major step in allowing our women veterans to take control of their own breast health. And now they can also take comfort in knowing that they will not be treated any differently than women in the private sector. As a breast cancer survivor myself, who was diagnosed at the young age of 41, I know how vital this life-saving policy can be for millions of our veterans.”