ATLANTA: The American Cancer Society (ACS) is reaching out to constituents and media to broadly reaffirm its stance that women should start getting mammograms at the age of 40.
Earlier this week, the US Preventive Services Task Force said that women should begin routine breast cancer screenings at 50 years old, a 10-year increase in age from the previous recommendations.
“The issue of staying well is all about prevention and early detection of cancer,” said Greg Donaldson, national VP of corporate communications for ACS. “Screening is not perfect but screening is the best thing we have.”
The Atlanta-based nonprofit is currently holding its annual meeting in Los Angeles and, given the proximity to the major media outlets based in the region, Donaldson said that the communications team is sending experts to as many outlets as it can.
“A lot of our staff and volunteer clinicians are all together in one place,” he said. “It's made it a little bit easier for us to coordinate our response strategy as it relates to the press, in particular.”
While earned media has been the primary focus for outreach, ACS is also using social media channels like Twitter and blogs to address questions and concerns.
Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at ACS, wrote a response to the new recommendations on his blog. Similar messages were sent by e-mail to thousands of ACS donors and supporters.
“We have tried really hard to clarify and be consistent,” said Donaldson. “We segmented several thousand people that we considered extremely important to us. We thought our most important constituents needed to hear from us on this. They were hearing an awful lot of noise in the popular press.”
Initially, the White House stood behind the recommendations after the debate took a partisan turn and some reports questioned whether this new insight would affect insurance coverage of mammograms. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement that seems to distance the administration from the findings.
"I want to address that confusion head on. The U.S. Preventive Task Force is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations," Sebelius said in the statement. "They do not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government."
Updated November 19, 2009, 7:42am