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