You would think that someone like me, who got diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41 due to having her first scheduled mammogram (breast exam didn’t catch it) would not have conflicting feelings about recommendations to start annual mammograms at age 40.
I kind of do, though. I mean, it’s a harrowing process in reality. You sit in the cold waiting room in that open-backed gown and then get your girls squeezed painfully in weird apparatus in a dark room. And all the while you have a little voice in the back of your head whispering “cancer…cancer…cancer…”
The reality is, my cancer was slow growing. I had a micro-metastasis, but my cancer probably could have gone another year or so without that changing my treatment options. If it was caught later, I probably still would have had to do what I did: slash, burn & poison.
So why go through it? Why deal with the possibility of false positives? Whats the use at this level of treatment options of finding stuff early when doctors don’t even know if chemotherapy can kill off cancer tumors without expensive genetic testing Anthem Blue Cross will not pay for (and thus I can not afford.)
Until we have better treatment options, until we KNOW whether chemotherapy and losing my hair actually did something against the cancer or was just something my body endured, I’m conflicted.
But now there’s a study that compares annual, hybrid and biennial screening.
And here’s the money shot:
n a single year, for women who were 40 years old, the number of deaths from breast cancer prevented would be:
- 29,369 for annual screening
- 22,829 for hybrid screening
- 15,599 for biennial screening (based on 2016 CISNET estimates)
“If the screening program goal is to perform as few mammograms as possible to achieve limited benefit and fewer risks …then the optimal age of initiation may be 50 years with an optimal frequency of biennial screening ending at age 74,” the researchers concluded. “On the other hand, if the goal is to avert the most breast cancer deaths and gain the most life-years, [this] modeling shows that the optimal age of initiation for screening mammography is 40 years, the optimal screening frequency is annual, and the optimal stopping age is when a woman’s life expectancy is less than 5 to 7 years.”
I think it’s clear, now. Even with the false positives, the possibly needless chemotherapy, etc, annual or hybrid mammograms (screening mammograms every year from age 45 to age 54, then screening mammograms every other year from age 55 to age 79 ) starting mammograms at age 40 should be the rule. And insurance should pay for it.
Now the American Cancer Society needs to get on board with this and update those guidelines so insurance will cover it. And doctors shouldn’t offer it as a “up to you” but as what is necessary.