While I ususally focus my blog on alleviating menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, today, I’d like to address new mammography guidelines that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed yesterday. Essentially, the recommendations now state that women between the ages of 40 to 49 should not get annual mammograms unless they are high-risk (i.e., strong family history and/or positive for the breast cancer genes BRCA-1 or -2) because the risks outweigh the benefits. The new guidelines also state that women over the age of 50 should get mammograms, but every two years instead of yearly. Finally, they state that self-breast exams are no longer necessary.
There are aspects of these new guidelines with which I agree, and others that, quite frankly, anger me.
First and foremost, I have been speaking out against mammograms for decades because I, too, believe that the risks outweigh the benefits. As I stated in my February 2008 issue of Womens Wellness Today:
A routine mammograms sensitivity (how good it is at detecting suspicious tissue) varies. If a woman is still menstruating, her breast tissue is denser, which drops the sensitivity of routine mammograms to below 70 percent. That means that as many as 30 percent of existing breast cancers are missed, which is troubling because cancers in younger women tend to grow faster. After menopause, a mammograms sensitivity is better, but still not great. Routine mammograms are hamstrung by the fact that any tumor smaller than about four-tenths of an inch across is less likely to show up, so a tumor might be just small enough to escape detection, and then have lots of time to grow and spread before the next mammogram. On top of all this, human error in reading the films is also a very real possibility.
Heres another problem with mammography. Five out of six suspicious routine mammograms turn out not to be cancer. Those five women are undoubtedly relieved, but they also got the scare of their lives, underwent more tests, maybe got biopsies, and possibly even had surgery they didnt need.
The latest studies show that for every 2,000 women who get a routine mammogram, one life is prolonged. If that seems mediocre, you should know that protecting any individual woman against breast cancer was never the goal of routine mammogramsits well known that they miss too many cancers in the early, most treatable stage. As a routine screening tool, their purpose is simply to reduce the percentage of women who die from breast cancer.
For these exact reasons, I recommend a breast imaging test called thermography over mammography. In short, mammography looks at the structure of a womans breast tissue, while thermography looks at its behavior–which is a much more accurate indicator of potential future problems.
Keep Up with Those Self-Exams
The Task Forces belief that self-exams are no longer important really frustrates me. I strongly believe that becoming familiar with your breasts, and how they look and feel, can help you determine if any scars, dents, lumps, or bumps are normal for you. Plus, you’ll be more sensitive to any little changes that might indicate the need for further testing.
In a nutshell, I recommend that you look into getting breast thermography done, and I strongly encourage you to keep up with your breast self-exams. To learn more about thermography, visit the International Academy of Clinical Thermology or Infrared Sciences Corp.