Sorry I’ve been away. It’s not for a dearth of things to say, just out there doing things and less time to compose. The new motto for this month is “good enough is the new perfect”. All you recovering perfectionists out there might want to investigate this idea. I’m finding it helpful, especially for times when I’m feeling overloaded. It’s amazing how a perfectionistic attitude can make everything heavier than it needs to be, and dismiss so much that’s really GOOD. It’s easier to see this if we can wonder for a second what it would be like to let go of our expectations.
Anyhoo, I’m about to post something here that I recognize could make me unpopular, but I want the information to be available to those who want it. The subject of mammograms has come up for me 3 times in the last week, and I’m taking it as a sign that I might provide some balance to all of the breast cancer awareness being hoisted upon us with pink plastered everywhere: on NFL players, on the trees at the university, with television commercials, and on merchandise from athletic gear to coffee cups.
At my physical last week the doc asked whether I’d had a mammogram yet, and I told him “no”, that I didn’t really see a reason, based on what I understand from my research so far. He did not push, and surprised me by instead saying that there’s a lot of controversy over it right now. I do know that my gynecologist has a different view, and has been asking me to get a “baseline” mammogram ever since I turned 40, and I’ll be 43 soon. I also know that recommendation is her professional organization’s stance. I am not quite able to convince myself, though, that the risk of cancer from excessive radiation is a fair trade for discovering cancer with a procedure that has such a high rate of of false positives (and accompanying stress and misery), and misses a third of the deadliest cancers altogether.
I also have a client currently suffering through such madness, and it is heartbreaking to watch the amount of distress and lack of accurate information and medical support she is enduring in the process.
What puzzles me is how the major breast cancer awareness organizations have missed or decided to ignore the 2009 change in federal guidelines for mammography. Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure stand firm in their recommendations for all women to have regular screenings starting at age 40. I cannot find good research to support such screening for women under 50, given their increased risk of cancer posed by that radiation exposure due to greater susceptibility of premenopausal breast tissue.
I recommend taking a look at this article on mammography from Mercola.com. I find him alarmist at times, but I do value having access to the other side of the debate regarding conventional medical wisdom, and the research he presents in this case is quite compelling. Here is Mercola’s synopsis of the info:
- CAD computer software, commonly used to locate suspicious areas in mammograms, increase your risk of getting a “false positive” result, and has failed to improve the detection rate for invasive breast cancers. The benefit of its use is now in question.
- Routine mammography has been conclusively shown to be useless in most women under the age of 50.
- Based on the lack of scientific evidence supporting mammography as a safe and effective breast cancer detection tool, as of November 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federal advisory board, changed their recommendation from annual to bi-annual mammography screenings, starting at age 50.
- A noteworthy report in the British Medical Journal, comparing breast mortality rates in different countries before and after the introduction of routine mammography screening, shows that the screening “did not play a direct part in the reductions in breast cancer mortality.”
Just to be clear, the decision to get a mammogram is highly individual, and I am not telling anyone what they should or should not do. I know that I am not the type of person who jumps on a bandwagon, and even more so in the case of ones driven by fear, as this one seems to be. I have discovered that it takes a very long time for conventional methods, especially in medicine, to be updated to match the data. This can mean practice can be behind the science 10-20 years or more! If your doctor was trained more than 20 years ago, it’s also possible they do not have a holistic approach to medicine because they were not trained to view it that way, and they also may not keep up with the research. All of this means it’s up to you to: stay current about issues important to your health, not to expect your doctor to know everything, not to use the popular press as your only information source, and to use your informed gut and heart to decide what’s right for you.
- Mammograms save fewer lives than many think, study shows (cbsnews.com)
- You: Well: The Limits of Breast Cancer Screening (well.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Mammogram study questions their life-saving value (cbc.ca)