Scheduling a mammogram screening was at the top of my “To Do List” when I learned of the recent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations that women forego a mammogram until the age of 50. I found it a bit disconcerting that mammograms can lead to false positive results and the scheduling of unnecessary biopsies. I played this scenario out in my mind, wondering if a mammogram would be worth the psychological torment of worrying that I may have a potentially life-threatening health problem when in fact, I do not.
Just a few months ago, I went to a gynecologist for an annual Pap test. Upon performing a breast examination and noticing from my chart that I was just shy of turning 40, the doctor urged me to schedule a mammogram screening immediately after my birthday. This is something that I had already planned to do – before I ever stepped foot in the doctor’s office. A champion of preventive health care, I never questioned whether this was the right course of action for me.
Fast forward to the recent guidelines. I am now 40 years young and suddenly the script has been flipped. Based on my medical and family history, I am not at high risk for developing breast cancer. Should I therefore wait another decade to have my screening done? Change my whole game plan? And what will the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force do for me and for my family should I find out at the age of 50 that I am in an advanced stage of breast cancer and would have had a greater chance of survival if I had gone through with the mammogram years ago? Furthermore, what will the Task Force do to compensate my family if I follow their recommendations and do not make it to the age of 50?
The real experts here are breast cancer survivors under the age of 50. This is not to take away from the education or experience of medical researchers and practitioners, but whose advice would you prefer to base a decision that could make the difference between life and death on? I, for one, would gravitate toward the wisdom and strength of a breast cancer survivor.
If you’re under the age of 50 – especially if you’re between the ages of 40 and 49 – you can base your decision to have a mammogram screening on lessons that breast cancer survivors have learned about the importance of early cancer detection. Learn from Julie Myers, mother of two and dedicated teacher, whose breast cancer was detected at the age of 42 and who is now a survivor. Learn from Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, who in 2007, after undergoing surgery for breast cancer during her mid 40’s, stated, “…I can’t stress enough how important it is to get screened and checked for all cancers – and to do self breast exams. I am so blessed that I found this in the early stages …”
If you still have doubts, you can always follow the recent recommendations and hope that they are sound. As for me, I’m headed for my mammogram screening in a couple of weeks and nothing that I hear on television will change my mind.
Cox, Lauren (2009). Stop Annual Mammograms, Govt. Panel Tells Women Under 50. ABC News.com. November 16, 2009.
Osby, Liv (2009). Breast cancer survivors say they are alive because of early detection. The Greenville Online.com. November 20, 2009.
Roberts, Robin (2007). ABC’s Robin Roberts: ‘I Have Breast Cancer’. ABC News.com. August 3, 2007.
WebMD (2009). Treatments by Breast Cancer Stage.