Yes, mammograms! Last month, new guidelines came out from the American Cancer Society that are somewhat confusing. Basically saying, if you are 40 or so, get a mammogram if you feel like it.
Recently, I had a client share a relatively scary mammogram experience that turned out to be completely benign, but left her a bit freaked out(this is not an academic paper, c’mon)!
New Guidelines suggest women 25-54 get regular mammograms. However as the early 40’s are considered a low risk for breast cancer, the ACS recommends starting annual mammograms at 45. Okay?
On the other hand, women in their 40’s show a high risk of false positives in screening and have been put through cancer detection technologies, such as biopsies, only to be told “it was a false alarm, sorry to put you through all that”. Hmmm.
That is what my client was told after her ”mammo from hell” as she calls it. Miss Shapely, is a full cup and aside from the awkward positons for mammography, having her full breasts smashed in the machine is not cool either. It reminds me of medieval medicine, the Breast Crucible, sorry I digress… Anyway full breasts are denser which makes tumors harder to spot in imaging. Miss Shapley was requested to make 2 additional visits for imaging, wait for results and then scheduled for a possible biopsy. Eek! Thankfully, the primary care doctor, required by her insurance, stepped in and they found there was no cause for alarm, just technicians preferring to be on the safe side. I mean, it wouldn’t be their bit of flesh for a cancer test.
Better safe than sorry, right? Not according to a CNN report:
There’s the risk of a false positive, plus the risk that a mammogram could catch a very small breast cancer that will go away on its own, or never progress to the point that it hurts a woman. In other words, a mammogram could catch a tumor that isn’t really worth catching.
But since doctors can’t reliably discern the harmful from the harmless cancers, they treat them all. This means some women are getting potentially harmful treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, when their tumor would never have caused a problem.
Personally, I think the American Cancer Society is right to lessen the frequency of mammograms in certain ages because at the same time, it should be between a woman and her doctor to determine; based on family history and other factors.
Bottom line? Start getting your mammograms early; 25 to 39 years, every year. At 40, you will have a good history of your breast health and early detection will be in your favor.