It's been a hot topic today, the announcement was made by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force that they do not recommend women before the age of 50 to receive annual routine mammograms. Doctors and women across the U.S. are outraged, confused, and disbelieving of this change in guidelines. I am one those women, as is my mother, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed after her first mammogram at the age of 35 in 1996. She began her annual mammograms much younger than most women because of her family medical history.
While the statement issued by the USPSTF is meant to exclude women like my mother who have a higher risk due to their family medical history, it is still a preposterous shift in standards for several significant, inexcusable reasons.
1) The guidelines do not take into account that not every woman has a thorough knowledge of their personal risk. Whether it is because they do not have contact with their biological family or because they do not know that they have been exposed to high-risk factors, like high dosages of birth control, radiation, or environmental hazards like contaminated drinking water or carcinogenic hormones in their food, each woman has a different level of risk that they may not be aware of.
2) The USPSTF claims that the "risks" outweigh the number of lives saved in women younger than 50 who receive annual mammograms. These "risks" include: a) a frequent over-exposure to radiation from the mammogram equipment. b) "unnecessary biopsies" and "false positives that can cause anxiety for the patient and "over-treatment." According to the article I read on the FoxNews website, the USPSTF research shows the beginning mammogram screening at age 40 would save one life but lead to 470 false alarms per thousand cases.
What the USPSTF clearly does not understand is that momentary anxiety followed by the overwhelming relief of a false alarm is ALWAYS a better scenario than the gut-wrenching dread of discovering an aggressive cancer too late in the game.
3) The USPSTF's statement on Monday also does not recommend any other form of breast examination tests instead of the mammogram. So not only do they discount the value of a yearly mammogram, but they have no alternative courses of preventative exercises for "low-risk" women.
The USPSTF does not seem to understand the value of EVERY LIFE. The "benefits" are no longer enough to promote self-examination, self-education, and preventative measures? The number of lives saved before the age of 50 are less important than the anxiety and money that can be saved on "false positives"?
Ultimately, I have to admit that my biggest fear is what this will mean for government health care plans. To be clear, I WANT all people regardless of their income to have access to affordable health care. However, my initial concern that government measures to insure everyone will infringe on patients' access to specialized treatment seems validated in light of this government task force's new set of guidelines. As it is, insurance companies will more than likely follow these new government guidelines if it means they will save money on "over-treatment."
I may be proven wrong in the long run. I hope I am. I am passionate about this because I know too many women who were diagnosed before they turned 50. Some of them never lived to their 50th birthday. Had it not been for my mother's own instincts and tenacity to fight for her own life, she would not have survived her first diagnosis, let alone her second diagnosis. She has been fighting this disease for 12 years. I shudder to think what our lives would be like if she had listened to someone else in the initial stages of her battle, or before she was even diagnosed. Truth be told, unless one has experienced cancer first hand, either through their own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a close family member, they will underestimate the depths of this illness. Cancer does not just taint bodies, it taints lives. These guidelines will not only influence the women who follow them, but will influence the lives of their daughters and granddaughters and their other loved ones.
Whatever the outcome of this change in guidelines, I know I am right in believing that government will never really be your advocate for your personal health concerns, whether they are about cancer or any other condition. Do not let the government or your doctor tell you that preventative measures are unnecessary, and ALWAYS self-examine. Early diagnosis and proactive treatment are your best bet.
YOU are your advocate. Evaluate your medical history, the possible exposure to hazardous material, and trust your instincts if you want to win this fight.
For more information on the USPSTF's statements, go to: