11.20.2009

Have You Heard About This?

I came across this news article the other day, and I was EXTREMELY alarmed:

In case you don't want to read the whole article, it basically says:
--Most women in their 40s should not routinely get mammograms.
--Women 50 to 74 should get a mammogram every other year until they turn 75, after which the risks and benefits are unknown.
--The value of breast exams by doctors is unknown.
--Breast self-exams are of no value.

These guidelines were proposed by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government entity designed to "evaluate the benefits of individual services based on age, gender, and risk factors for disease; make recommendations about which preventive services should be incorporated routinely into primary medical care and for which populations; and identify a research agenda for clinical preventive care," according to their website. Now, I'm sure this task force is typically good at what they do (since they are considered experts in their respective fields), but if you look at a list of their members, there isn't a single oncologist on the panel.

There are several reasons why I take issue with this recommendation. Three years ago, at the age of 46, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went in for a routine, yearly mammogram, and the technician saw basically a blip. It turned out to be a cancerous tumor, and although it was very small (1 cm or less), it was an extremely invasive form of the disease. Because it was caught so early, she was able to avoid having chemotherapy. If she had waited 4 years until she was 50 to begin getting mammograms, who knows how far the disease would have progressed.
Even more serious, I know of many other women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30s or early 40s and DID receive extensive treatment. Without doctor exams or self-exams, I doubt these women would have even detected a problem until it was nearly too late.

Since my mother's diagnosis, we've attended the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every year in May. They have a survivor's parade, and it is shocking how many recent survivors are in their 20s or even in their teens. Would these women have survived if they followed the current guidelines?

It is my understanding that seeking thorough preventive care is instrumental in reducing the future medical costs of an individual. Yes, yearly mammograms starting at age 40 may result in more "false alarms and unneeded biopsies," but wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry? I would. For me, the risk of a missed or late diagnosis is too great.

3 comments:

Parkers said...

I heard about this on Good Morning America a few days ago. It seems so very opposite of what the government generally recommends. Why on earth would we CUT BACK on screenings? Usually the government invades private lives by making us amp up doctor's visits and screenings. I for one will be sorely disappointed if insurance companies stop providing for yearly breast exams.

Natalie Sadler said...

I've read multiple articles on this issue, unsure of what to think at first, and I've come to the following conclusion:

This is something a patient should speak with her doctor about if it seems to be concern.

And on another note, multiple studies suggest that "knowing your girls" is a far more effective preventative "test" than just getting your annual mammogram. After all, no one knows them better than you.

Just because the government or like organizations recommend something doesn't mean you have to abide by it. I think people should use their initiative and do their own research on pretty much anything they do in their lives, rather than wait for the government or some organization to tell them to do so. If the government wasn't there to tell them how to do pretty much everything, where would we be today?

There is no substitute for personal responsibility.

Natalie said...

i was shocked as well. but putting aside intelligent commentary, i have 4 1/2 words for those responsible for that report: u don't kno crap.

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