The news this week that the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care is recommending that women under 50 do not receive mammograms, do not receive breast examinations as part of a regular physical examination and that self-exams not be taught at any age, just horrifies me. If that had been the "rule of the day" over 20 years ago, I would probably be dead now.
Like many women, I found the lump myself. With fear and trepidation, I went off to the doctor and was promptly sent for a mammogram. In fact, the lump I found was nothing, but something showed up in the other breast.
I was 39, had no history of breast cancer in my family and not only that, it was an aggressive cancer that had already spread to my lymph nodes. Under the current recommendations, I would not have received the treatment I needed to survive. Fifteen years later, it was a mammogram again that spotted my second tumour. I feel I am living proof that these preventative strategies work. Living being the operative word.
Yes, there may be some false positives, but you know what, while that is stressful, I think it is even more stressful and costly when the cancer goes undetected and spreads. According to some oncologists, early mammograms have resulted in a reduction of breast cancer-related deaths by 25 to 30 per cent for women ages 50 to 70.
There is this belief too that breast cancer only strikes older women over 50, yet you just have to see the statistics and stories from ReThink Breast Cancer to know that young women are equally vulnerable and entitled to the necessary tests to determine if they have this disease.
As Sandra Palmaro, CEO of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation said recently in the Globe and Mail, "They're ultimately going to result in more women dying from breast cancer that don't need to be dying from breast cancer, there's no question."
In the medical journal The Lancet, over 40 physicians and radiologists signed and had a letter published decrying the task force's recommendations and expressing their concern about possible erroneous interpretation of the data.
With such controversy over these recommendations, one can only hope that someone is listening, taking stock and eventually wisdom will prevail. Otherwise, lives will be lost.
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