If you are a woman between the ages of 40 and 50 facing whether to have a mammogram every year, every other year or not at all, we won’t tell you what to do. That’s a decision between you and your doctor. Of this, though, we are sure: The controversy over a recommendation by a government panel of doctors and scientists is a needed reminder that our tools to detect and predict the course of breast cancer are not precise enough.

If you are a woman between the ages of 40 and 50 facing whether to have a mammogram every year, every other year or not at all, we won’t tell you what to do.

That’s a decision between you and your doctor.

Of this, though, we are sure: The controversy over a recommendation by a government panel of doctors and scientists is a needed reminder that our tools to detect and predict the course of breast cancer are not precise enough.

We have to do better.

The American Cancer Society has long recommended annual mammograms for all women beginning at age 40. That’s been advice consistent over the past two decades.

Last week, however, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines, saying women should wait until they are 50 to get mammograms and get them only every other year.  The guidelines also discourage breast self-exams, saying they are of no value. Women with a family history of breast cancer or who have gene mutations that present special risk should get mammograms sooner or more often.

The members of the government panel may know their science, but they don’t know politics.

Coming in the middle of a battle in Congress over health care reform, it’s not at all surprising the mammogram recommendations were interpreted as government cost control. Within two days, the Obama administration distanced itself from the advice, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius encouraging women to continue getting mammograms starting at age 40.

Democrats and Republicans used the mammogram controversy to prove their point: Don’t trust your health to (insert party), they would do anything to (pass, defeat) the health care bill.

Thank goodness women have someone reliable to trust. Talk to your doctor. And then talk to your lawmaker about approving more funds for research into breast cancer, heart disease and other things that kill women — regardless of their politics.

Rockford Register Star