Early detection is an important part of surviving breast cancer. By discovering breast cancer at an early stage, women are not only more likely to survive, but they are also more likely to receive less invasive and less aggressive treatments. This is of major importance because even though a treatment such as chemotherapy can help kill cancer cells and save lives, it can take quite a toll on a woman’s body and spirit.
Although breast-cancer awareness has risen in past decades and women are well-versed in tests such as mammograms and breast self-exams, there is still some confusion and debate regarding them. Just recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force announced that women don’t need mammograms until the age of 50 and that they need these tests only once every two years. (This is the guideline for women who are at average risk of breast cancer. In other words, they don’t have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or a family history of breast cancer.)
However, the American Cancer Society doesn’t agree with these guidelines. Instead, they advise all women over the age of 40 to receive yearly mammograms. (Again, if you have a family history of breast cancer or a higher risk of the disease, you might need early or more frequent testing. Talk to your doctor to find out more.)
So which recommendation is correct? Well, as a breast-cancer survivor under the age of 50, my cancer would not have been detected early on if my doctor hadn’t ordered me to get my yearly mammogram. Because of this urging, my cancer was caught very early (stage 0) and my life may have been saved as a result. Had I waited until I was 50 years old, the cancer might have spread or grown to such an extent that treatment wouldn’t have been able to save my life.
With such an experience, it’s easy to understand why I stand behind the American Cancer Society and its guidelines. I hate to think what would have happened if I’d postponed my mammogram or ignored my doctor’s orders. I understand that mammograms can be unpleasant and that even finding time to go to the doctor for the test can be difficult, but women can’t afford to delay this important exam. It really could mean the difference between winning or losing the battle against breast cancer, and I don’t think that’s a risk any woman should take.
So why does the US Preventive Services Task Force tell women they can wait until the age of 50? Partly, they do so to save women from the discomfort and anxiety of the testing and potential false-positive results. (It is rare but it can happen.) And while I agree that unnecessary and invasive tests are not a good idea, mammograms simply don’t fall into that category. They save thousands of lives each year, and the risk involved of getting a false positive is so much less than the risk of having breast cancer without realizing it. My advice? Talk to your doctor, learn your risk factors for breast cancer, and then make a commitment to your own health and wellness. We can beat cancer — as long as we find it early enough.