Tuesday Short Rant: Breast Examination & Mammograms

Fresh off a great Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we were slapped in the face by the announcement that women should wait until age 50 to get a mammogram and should quit all the self-examinations. [insert outraged pause here]. From HuffPo/AP:

NEW YORK (AP)- Most women don't need a mammogram in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50, a government task force said Monday. It's a major reversal that conflicts with the American Cancer Society's long-standing position.

Also, the task force said breast self-exams do no good and women shouldn't be taught to do them.

For most of the past two decades, the cancer society has been recommending annual mammograms beginning at 40.

But the government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of survival.

"The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s," said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the panel.

The new guidelines were issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose stance influences coverage of screening tests by Medicare and many insurance companies.

Um, yeah – I will have call a flag on the play and shout bullshiggity on this whole thing up and through here. You are now saying that not only should women wait to get a mammogram but they should not do self-exams? The HELL? Now I am from a medical family, father and brother both physicians BUT what I hate about these so called "medical panels" is that they tend to talk out of their asses. There was a time about ten years ago when a new study was coming out weekly about what caused cancer: bacon, strawberries, Equal, white bread. Over the course of the next five years, each of those studies was contradicted by differing studies. Remember when oranges were the superfruit? Now it's pomegranate or açai berry? This leads me to believe that beyond the big three (cigarettes, asbestos and genetics), folks have no clue where cancer comes from or how to prevent it.

Why wouldn't you recommend something that aids in awareness and prevention? Who is this "task force" to tell women not to check themselves? I smell an insurance company hustle. The days of the free "Well Woman" exam are about to be thrown under the bus.

Kathleen Reardon, a professor at USC, wrote an article for HuffPo called
I'd be dead by now – The New Breast Cancer Guidelines. An excerpt:

I'd be dead by now if it weren't for breast self-examination. And had my doctor been less convinced of his own guidelines regarding women without a known history of breast cancer, my cancer would have been detected earlier and I would have been treated sooner and less aggressively. I was 32 years old.

The latest research is one more piece of information for the decision process women must make each year regarding mammography. That's it. If breast self-exam gives you greater peace of mind, no set of guidelines should deter you from it. If someone in your family found a lump in her breast that turned out to be breast cancer, what a team of doctors and researchers tells you is simply one piece of advice and perhaps irrelevant to your situation.

They are researchers looking at numbers. You are a person they do not know. I have high regard for many of the doctors weighing in on this subject, but let me bring it back to you, your wife, mother, sister, or friend. Anecdotal information is valuable. It is part of the larger picture. You also need to know yourself. If you're more interested in being sure than worried about being scared, find yourself a doctor who agrees with you. And get the mammogram recommended by the American Cancer Society before the insurance companies take that option away.

One other question: Where's the study on men not needing a prostate exam? [insert stern side-eye here] The American Cancer Society reports that the breast cancer death rate has been going down over the last fifteen years, they attribute this primarily to early detection. Damn the panel, check it yourself and get it checked if something doesn't feel right. What did ya'll think of this story?