Hologic slips as panel recommends fewer mammograms

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 12:26 PM

Shares of digital mammogram system maker Hologic Inc. fell Tuesday after a government task force recommended that women wait longer before having mammograms, and have the breast examinations less often.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday that most women should wait until they turn 50 before having regular mammograms, rather than starting at 40, and suggested women have an examination every two years instead of once a year. It said the benefits of earlier testing are minimal compared to the risk of false alarms and the damage from biopsies.

The task force also said the benefits of mammograms for women over 75 are unclear. It previously said those women should have a mammogram every year or two. The guidelines were a break with American Cancer Society recommendations, and one analyst said they could cut demand for mammograms by more than half.

Hologic said the new recommendations are not supported by solid medical evidence. The Bedford, Mass., company is already dealing with lower sales of its Selenia digital mammogram device due to the recession, but said it does not believe they will have a significant effect on its business in the near future.

Soleil Securities analyst Junaid Husain said it is too soon to know what effect the guidelines might have. But citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, he said about 29 percent of mammograms are done on women age 40 to 49, and around 13 percent are done on women over 75.

"Worst-case scenario assuming these two recommendations are taken at face value we could see mammographic procedure volumes reduced from current 37.2 million to 15.6 million" per year, a drop of 58 percent, Husain said.

He added that the new guidelines could also hurt sales of new Selenia systems.

In afternoon trading, Hologic stock lost 50 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $15.17.