Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Under the New Mammogram Guidelines, I Might Now be Dead

I am shocked and disappointed by the new guidelines presented by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Contradicting their previous guidelines, as well as those from the American Cancer Society, they believe that women shouldn’t begin mammogram screening until they are 50, as opposed to the old guidelines which urged routine screening at 40. They also suggest that a woman need only be screened every other year, as opposed to every year. Maybe even more shocking is the assertion that women should no longer do self exams.

The reasoning behind the new guidelines is that only about 15 percent of women in their 40’s detect breast cancer through mammography, and only one in 19,000 will die of breast cancer. Yet, many other women face false positives, unnecessary biopsies, and feel anxious about the test.

As one of the 15 percent, I strongly disagree with this change. At 46 years old, I discovered I had breast cancer through a routine mammogram. I felt no lump, nor had any idea there was anything wrong. Even after my cancer was diagnosed, no doctor was able to feel my lump. Had I waited four more years until I turned 50, it’s impossible to say how far the cancer might have spread.

Due to my early diagnosis, I endured a lumpectomy and radiation and am now almost four years cancer free. My oncologist said I had “an excellent little cancer.” Four years later, I doubt she would have used those words.

My friend Claire also had breast cancer. She caught hers through a self-exam, but it did not show up on mammography. Her cancer wasn’t so excellent, and she needed a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and pretty much went through hell and back. Had she not done a self-exam, it is hard to know what might have happened.

I struggle to see the downside of early screening and self-exams. I would rather be concerned about a false positive, than miss the opportunity to discover I have cancer as soon as possible.

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