Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mammograms: Now You Do, Now You Don't

Anyone reading or listening to the news knows that the United States Preventative Task Force has recommended that women under 50 not have regular mammogram screenings - a total turn around from their recommendations in 2002.

According to PBS:

Members of the panel, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that screening for breast cancer too early and too often can lead to false alarms, unnecessary biopsies and unnecessary anxiety for women.

I think a little mental and physical discomfort might be a small price to pay for the knowledge that a woman doesn't have breast cancer or, if they do, it has been caught early. I know too many women under 50, 40 and even 30, who've experienced breast cancer. In several cases it has been severe and required some extreme measures. Had they waited until they felt a lump, the cancer would have been too advanced. I'm no doctor, thank heavens for potential patients, but I've always heard that the younger you are the faster the cancer grows.

The panel on Monday also recommended that most women stop getting regular mammograms after age 74, and that doctors should no longer teach women to do breast self-examinations.


  1. Well, I just went for my annual physical and got the little pink card with the phone number for me to make the appt. for the annual mammogram -- in January because of course my insurance won't pay for it THIS year because I had blood work and God forbid you should have two preventive tests in one year.

    But I digress.

    So now, I wonder WTF am I supposed to do, get the mammo or not? Since I had one LAST year.

    Cripes. It's like the thing with eggs all over again. First they were bad for you, then they were good, then bad, then good. Just ... let us know when you figure this shit out, OK?

  2. Wow, I'm not sure what I'd do. I think I would begin by asking if they have any reason to suspect that you absolutely need one right now and for what reason(s). If none of the above, I'd blow it off. But that's just me.

    St. Thomas is a non-profit (and probably Baptist). I don't know if you can get financial aide since you do have insurance but it's worth a try. And it seems to me I've read about a couple of places that offer free or cheap mammograms, but of course I can't remember where. A woman's clinic? Good luck, though. I sympathize with your predicament.

    Sounds like you have an HMO?

  3. I am going to adopt a bit of a contrarian position and try to explain the thinking behind the change... allowing for the fact that I am not a medical expert of course.

    Since the breast cancer awareness campaign began some years ago, there has been a massive increase in concern over a health issue that is real but no MORE real than equally deadly health risks like heart disease, stroke, and other forms of cancer. There has been a public obsession with breast cancer that has sometimes overwhelmed other women's health issues and other cancer awareness issues to the detriment of public health in general.

    Many people appear to have been convinced that breast cancer occurs far more often than it actually does. Many believe the mortality rate to be far higher than it is. Others believe that genetic predisposition to cancer /guarantees/ cancer, which it does not. Some women have had double mastectomies as a purely preventative measure. While this has been presented as entirely rational in some medical circles, it is self-mutilation in the interests of preventing an illness rarer among women than heart disease or stroke and with a lower mortality rate.

    SB, it's basically up to you. If it is covered and if it would make you feel better, get the mammo. The mammo itself is not bad for you.

    I believe the primary concern being expressed is related to the breast cancer hysteria... if everyone will forgive my use of that somewhat loaded word... in many public circles. The number one killer of American women is heart attack and/or stroke, just as it is the number one killer of American men.

    I think the goal is to put the risks and awareness of breast cancer back into a more proper perspective.

  4. I think most people know that more women die from heart attack than breast cancer. And I think there are a lot of tests out there, such as MRIs and mammograms, that are unnecessarily performed too many times - this is really not news. And frankly, I think there are too many doctors out there who are too eager to use the knife. I also maintain that doctors are not Gods and patients should shop around for them just as they would a car.

    But the bottom line is, a person is the caretaker of their own body and should make their own decisions after consultation with their primary care physician/specialist and after gathering as much info as possible - research, research, research. In the end, a patient - male or female - should do what they are most comfortable with.

    As I said in my post, I know many women who would be dead now if they hadn't just happened to have a mammogram. On the other hand, I know someone who had had a breast reduction. A few years later a mammogram showed some suspicious
    spots. She was sent to an oncologist whose first words almost were, "Let's just go in and cut that thing out." No biop, no nothing. She walked out and didn't go back. Twenty years later she is cancer free because those spots are just scar tissue.

    It's a roll of the dice.

  5. I'm not sure that most people DO know of the relative risks of heart disease and breast cancer. I have heard conversations about the subject that would make one think that breast cancer was the only major health risk that women face. I know people like you know the difference...

    But I don't think most people are like you.

    I guess that's my troublesome elitism again.

    I agree that people should shop around for their doctors to the best of their ability. Yes. Entirely.