In what I have always considered one of the best uses of the blog medium, Rachel Walden maintains an excellent site dedicated to news and discussion about women’s health. This weekend she has a terrific roundup of writings about the Mammogram Controversy that I would consider a must-read for every woman.
I’ve been known to have an opinion or three, but I’ve intentionally kept mum about mammograms for years. I don’t want other women using my reasons as an excuse to avoid a mammogram they’ve been told by their doctor that they should have. And I don’t wish to be stereotyped as a granola luddite, which is the view most people seem to hold when you tell them you have elected to forego mammography as a general-screening tool.
The controversy has grown louder in the last three years or so, with each side mischaracterising the other wildly and making good information on the subject harder and harder to find. I myself have spent years trolling medical journals for good, hard data.
The conclusion I have come up with for myself is no longer such an outlandish one as it was at first. Mammograms were sold to women for years as the baseline method for early cancer detection and prevention. Over the past two decades “get a mammogram” has been the cheery, bumpersticker shibboleth to go along with the pink ribbons and mini-marathons. Just as “loose lips sink ships” was a World War II comfort-slogan, so is “Get a yearly mammogram!” today.
Even though the evidence is mounting against mammography’s effectiveness.
Even though mammograms are, in actuality, a painful procedure which may actually increase a woman’s chance of succumbing to breast cancer.
Even though the American Cancer Society has known since 1985 that 90% of early detection of breast cancer is as a result of painless self-exams, as opposed to intensely painful mammography.
Even though women are now often assuming they are at greater risk for cancer than they actually are AND that they have a greater hope in mammography’s effectiveness at diagnosis.
In short, mammograms are an outmoded tool that have been sold to the public as a silver bullet. Do some women need mammograms? Yes. But I argue that the number for whom a mammogram is essential is far smaller than the number of women (closing in now on 100%) who are advised to have one. For instance, I am taking a medication for which I need to have a liver panel test done every three months. It is necessary for me because I am at risk for liver disease. But no responsible doctor would tell every woman to have a liver panel done four times a year. And a liver panel is cheaper and far less painful than a mammogram.
In the fervor to publicize and market breast cancer and to fund a cure the public has become woefully misinformed. I would urge every woman to drop by Rachel’s roundup and do a bit of research for themselves. As usual, life is more complicated than soundbites.