Breast cancer screening decision prompts review of Canada’s task force

Health Minister Mark Holland said he is opening an external review of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care amid its decision to not lower the breast cancer screening age guidelines in the country.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill on Thursday, Holland said he is “disappointed” in the task force’s decision to keep Canada’s recommended routine breast screening age at 50.

“I am deeply concerned about the way this process has unfolded [and] membership should be reviewed,” Holland said.These comments come hours after the Canadian task force confirmed that the guidelines for routine breast cancer screenings will remain unchanged, despite mounting pressure from medical experts to lower the age.

The task force said it holds firm on its position not to lower the recommended age to 40 from 50 due to concerns of over-diagnosis and unnecessary biopsies leading to anxiety among patients.It added that if people aged 40 and over understand the benefits and risks of early screening and still wish to proceed, they should be able to get a mammogram every two to three years.

“There isn’t a woman that I’ve spoken to today who is okay by these recommendations,” Holland said. “The task force’s concern that a false-positive will cause distress, frankly I don’t buy it. I know the women in my life would rather have a false positive that they get to prove negative than not be tested.”

Holland then encouraged women to talk with their physicians about their breast screening options.

In the wake of the controversial decision, Holland said he is now asking Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, to review the guidelines and share her best practices.

Holland also called for extending the public consultation period for the breast screening recommendations from six weeks to a minimum of 60 days “to ensure all experts are able to be heard.”

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care is an independent, federally-appointed body that sets national guidelines used by family doctors to determine what kind of health screening patients require. According to its website, it comprises 15 primary care and prevention experts across Canada, such as family physicians, mental health experts and pediatricians.

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