Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thoughts on mammograms and false positives

There has been a lot of controversy in recent years about the benefits of mammography and false positives. I read Dr Susan Love's take on how "Mammography is like the TSA" and the comments left by women. It made me think.

I started having annual mammograms at age 22 because of a benign fibroadenoma so I am sort of out of the discussion. My breast cancer was discovered 23 annual mammograms later at age 45. I went to all those mammograms without any concern until the one in 2007 (and if you are trying to figure out how old I am, currently I am 37) which turned into an ultrasound, a lot of denial on my part, followed by two surgeries, chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy to where I am now.

But if it was me to do it all over again, at this point I would rather be over treated and have a few false positives along the way than to have a cancer missed. My cancer could not be felt in a manual exam. My benign one way back when could be felt. My subsequent benign fibroademona, six months after my diagnosis, could not be felt either due to scar tissue. But it was visible in an MRI and ultrasound.

If you think about it, we have a tool available to us that helps with early detection and that alone does equate to saving lives. Its like wearing your seat belt. If you wear it every day, you are making your best effort. But on the one day you need it when that car pulls out of a side road in front of you, you are saved.

Dr Love makes an analogy of a mammogram like TSA screening which I can understand as well. Any effort we can make to help us live more safely makes sense. You can opt out of wearing your seat belt at your own risk. You can opt out of your annual mammogram at your own risk. But there shouldn't be someone blocking you from access.

The risk for breast cancer starts to increase for women at age 40 so there is no reason to delay mammograms until age 50 - just because the risk is significantly greater. As Dr Love points out there are many types of cancers and each are different. She raises the question that we may need to reevaluate the goal for early detection . But until it is changed, I am sticking with my annual mammogram.

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