Health minister launches pilot for mammographies from age 40 and not 50

Move runs contrary to council’s advice and Western countries’ shift away from policy.

Former health minister Yael German (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former health minister Yael German
Health Minister Yael German has decided to initiate a “pilot study” on whether to begin mammograms for women at age 40 instead of 50 -- even though Western countries are increasingly accepting the wisdom of Israel’s long-held policy of beginning them at age 50.
German maintained that she chose to include more Arab women under 40 in the pilot because statistics showed that they develop breast cancer at a younger age than Arab women. “I hope that at our next discussion of this in the committee, we will have enough data that will make us wiser.”
But three national councils -- oncology, public health and women’s health -- have gone on the record endorsing the current policy of beginning at 50 (but 40 for women with a family history of the tumor) rather than at 40 for all women. The reasons, they have stated, are that breast tissue is still dense before menopause, making it difficult to detect tumors, and false-positive and false-negative results can cause physical and psychological harm. In the meantime, younger women would be exposed to radiation unnecessarily.
German did not tell the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Monday how long she wanted the pilot to be. But oncologists said that it would have to take at least 10 years to determine whether an decade-earlier start of mammography scans would save any lives.
The health minister said that many of those who would participate in the pilot would be younger Arab women and that she could fund the pilot study from the budget she has allocated for reducing the health gap between Arab and Jewish women.
However, the gap in reducing the prevalence in breast cancer between Arabs and Jews has shrunken considerably in recent years, as the Israel Cancer Association has through education and mobile x-ray vans made it easier for Arab women aged over 60 to undergo mammograms.
Committee chairman MK Aliza Lavie supported German’s initiative, arguing that a quarter of women diagnosed each year with breast cancer are under the age of 50. The breast cancer activists group One in Nine also supported German in her initiative.