Pay them no mind, and check your boobies!
By Lynn Hamilton
The American Cancer Society has issued new recommendations on who should get a mammogram and when. Trouble is: the science that says women are at risk of cancer beginning at 45 does not jive with the experiences of increasingly young women who are being diagnosed with cancer.
Possibly the most important thing to remember is that the American Cancer Society cannot tell you when to get a mammogram. If you think you need one, get one. If one or more of your relatives has had cancer, get one.
Let’s take a close, dispassionate look at the new guidelines. First off, ACS says that women as young as forty who want a mammogram should go ahead and get one. The society does NOT actually tell anyone not to get a mammogram.
The guidelines go on to say that women 45 to 54 should have annual mammograms, and women over 54 who are at average risk should have mammograms at least every two years. However, it is important to note, again, that women over 54 may, at their discretion, have mammograms every year under the new guidelines.
The ACS cites recent science which suggests that cancer strikes women in the 45-54 age range harder, faster, and with more aggression than it strikes women in the 55 and over age range.
It’s also important to note that these new recommendations apply to women at “average risk” which means women who don’t know they have a hereditary tendency to cancer. A history of cancer or a cancer in the immediate family is a total game changer and an argument for mammograms every year or even more frequently and beginning at a younger age.
For women whose risk is twenty percent greater than average, the ACS recommends both a mammogram AND an MRI, preferably at a facility that can do a breast biopsy if one is indicated by the MRI. There are several models for calculating your cancer risk.
If you examine the fine print, the most controversial thing in the new guidelines is that ACS seems to be dismissing self examinations and good old fashioned manual exams in the doctor’s office. ACS now claims that there is no scientific evidence that self exams and doctors’ exams result in early detection.
There are a lot of women out there calling bullshit on that, and they have every justification. It’s quite possible that the ACS’ research is flawed. If a woman discovers a lump, then schedules a mammogram, statistics will likely show that the diagnosis occurred as a result of the mammogram. But if you were the first one to locate your cancer, you know what really happened.
Breast cancer survivor and activist Bershan Shaw is one of many women who do not fit comfortably into the new ACS guidelines. Shaw was diagnosed with cancer at the tender age of 33. She says it’s “ludicrous” to tell women that they don’t need to examine themselves. “Check your boobies!” is her battle cry.
“I say women check your boobies as soon as you turn 18,” says Shaw. “There is no time limit on this. Breast cancer is affecting women younger and younger.”
Shaw’s own experience certainly argues for testing that occurs long before the ACS guidelines would have women going in for mammograms.
“There is no average age. Young adults are the new norm now,” says Shaw, who adds, “Society better wake up! Women need to get to know their breasts at an early age, so they can know how they feel, and when they feel something out of the norm they will be aware.”