To Mammo or Not to Mammo?

Today marks the beginning of “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” a month that turns 28 this year, born of a marriage between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of then-Imperial Chemical Industries (now AstraZeneca).

That’s nearly three decades of fundraisers to make people aware of breast cancer and, ostensibly, to raise money for the cure.

If I could wave a magic wand, I’d rename these 31 days, “Breast Health Awareness Month,” but then, why dedicate only one month out of 12 to breast health, when women and men need to be focused on health year-round?

What one often finds during this month is the push-push-push for women to get mammograms.first-mammogram-appt-web_MDAnderson This may accelerate under the Affordable Care Act, which aims to provide no-cost “preventive” screenings.

I can only speak for myself, but I will not be one of the ones who gets such “screening.”

Why?

Because compression is not my friend and I know my “girls” won’t like it. Seriously, what message does it send to our bodies when we turn over what represents nurturing to a cold machine that flattens them and blankets them with radiation? Even the newer imaging devices use radiation.

I have had two close relatives maintain mammography screening for years. With both, the screenings picked up unusual-looking areas in the breast. One went the mastectomy route and required hormonal support, but no chemo and radiation. The other had a lumpectomy and required chemo and radiation.

Despite my genetic connection to them, I have no plans to give in to fear around cancer. Neither of these ladies likes the fact that I am in the “declined mammo” camp, but health choices are highly personal. I’d have preferred not to see the one go through what I perceive as a war on the body, but then, that, too, is her choice and I support her in that. It seems to have worked for her. Her hair and nails are regrowing. But she now has a ton of medical debt and not a long time in which to pay that off.

Time will tell for both of them as it will for me.

But here are some data that you may be interested in whether you’re a woman—or a man who loves the women in his life and wants what’s best for them.mammography_1_UConnHealthCenter

Based on meta-analytical research by two Danes published in the British Medical Journal from women in five countries who had mammograms resulting from a mass effort to screen beginning at age 50:

one of 2,000 will avoid a breast-cancer death;

10 will get diagnosed with a non-lethal breast cancer, which will be treated unnecessarily;

10 to 15 will learn they have breast cancer earlier than they’d otherwise know, but this will not affect their outcome;

and 100 to 500 will have a “false alarm” that, in about half of these, will lead to a biopsy.

(Leigh’s question: Can anyone guess at the amount of stress created around “false alarms”? And what does that stress do to the body? It certainly takes a toll on one’s immune defenses.)

The two researchers, Karsten Juhl Jørgensen and Peter C. Gøtzsche, also published an easy-to-read explanation of their research, including benefits and harms, which is available here.

Take a look. Go to the research. Make up your own mind. Have a plan. And don’t be cowed either way. Decide for yourself what you’d like; that is your right.

I’ll be writing more about breast health this month, so stay tuned.

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4 thoughts on “To Mammo or Not to Mammo?

  1. I’m sad you’re not taking advantage of this technology… I think both my aunty and mother would have been saved if it had been available for them. I go to every screening, and I’m so grateful I can take advantage of it. The added benefit is that there are health care professionals to talk to and discuss any concerns and worries with.

    • Dear Lois,

      Thank you so much for your comment on this post. That this technology is available to those who desire it is good. What is sad, to me, is that mammograms, at least in the United States, have long been pushed as “the only” way for women, who often feel guilty if they don’t have these tests. That, I have a problem with. Health decisions are so very personal and it is up to each person, woman or man, to make the best decisions with the information they have. Recent information indicates that harms may outweigh benefits for many, certainly not for all. There are also other forms of screening available, including thermography and sonograms. I expect to share more about these in future posts. Again, I do appreciate the points you’ve made, and I certainly have the utmost respect for people who do their homework and determine what’s best for themselves.

      Kindest blessings,
      Leigh

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply Leigh, I hope I didn’t seem critical in my brief comment, I completely respect each woman’s decision, but knowing what dreadful suffering this vile disease causes me I truly do feel anxious for other people.

  2. Hi, Lois. You’re welcome. No, not at all critical. I understand where you are coming from. We have lost three people in our family, in-laws, to various cancers or complications from cancer treatments, and that makes me sad. But I also try to take a more clinical view of the illness, which I see as being unique in its manifestation in each person, regardless of type and regardless of etiology, although with respect to the latter, we are beginning to be able to point to some commonalities. I believe there are steps we can take toward prevention, but that ultimately, it’s something of a dice-roll in that we have little individual control over things like water/air/soil pollution or whether our grandparents worked around plastics or asbestos or whether our parents ate a lot of junk food, any or all of which contributes to our own health. I hope to be sharing more about this going forward. Thank you again for reading and sharing — I hope you’ll continue to do so!

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