Lake Stevens Journal - Your hometown newspaper since 1960


By Pam Stevens

Mammograms or bust


November 23, 2009

When health care reform is a top priority in this country and is currently topping the government’s ‘to do’ list, hearing that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has come out with new guidelines regarding mammograms has made many in America skeptical.

The task force has said that women under the age of 50 do not need regular mammograms. This statement has created uproar by doctors, cancer survivors and more.

The task force wrote that on balance, routine mammograms for women in their 40s aren’t worth the downsides, such as false positives and the exposure to a small amount of radiation.

The task force has never said that women in their 40s haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer because of mammograms. However, they say that for every 1000 mammograms two will find breast cancer. The problem, they say, is that 98 of those women will receive a false positive.

These false positives lead to biopsies and other medical exams which end up being deemed unnecessary and sometimes painful.

What seems most disconcerting to some is that the task force also discourages teaching women to do self-breast exams.

Of course, the first thing that pops into our heads as we hear the reports, are the women we know who have been saved through early detection of some kind.

Having a sister-in-law suffer through the treatment and anxiety that having breast cancer brings, with three small children and at the young age of 35, the need for early detection is a necessity.

Had she not gone to her yearly gynecological exam, her cancer may not have been found for years. However, her cancer was not found through a mammogram until the doctor found a lump in her breast.

Others I know who have been diagnosed with this disease in their 40s, found their cancer through routine mammograms.

The biggest concern right now is what health insurance companies will do with the information the task force presented. Will they change their policies and procedures and only pay for mammograms in women over 50?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she doesn’t think this will happen. I guess we’ll just wait and see.

The U.S. task force’s estimate says the evidence indicates that mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths by 15 percent among women ages 40 to 49. That seems like a pretty high number, especially when you consider that these women are someone’s mother, sister, daughter and friend.

For now, it seems prudent for women to be more aware of their breasts and any changes that occur and continue to get yearly mammograms, yearly doctor’s exams, drink less alcohol and live an active lifestyle. All of which will decrease the chance of breast cancer and increase the chance that it will be detected early.


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