Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mammograms: more complicated than meets the eye

My midwives hate it when it's time for my yearly checkup because we get into a gigantic fight about mammograms, which they believe everyone should get starting in your late thirties. The last two times I was in, I said, "haven't you read the studies that show little difference in outcome between people who do and don't have mammograms AND the slight increase in cancer in people who have yearly ones--possibly because the radiation involved promotes tumors?"

In the aftermath of my most recent checkup, the midwife even said, "Could you, uh, not be so loud and not talk about it in front of the other patients?"

Why not? I think being informed in one's healthcare decisions is prudent, but more often than not, healthcare providers see anyone who doesn't meekly and unthinkingly obey as a pain in the ass. From the BBC:
Lead researcher Dr Peter Gotzsche, of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, said: "Women invited to screening should be fully informed of both benefits and harm.

"When screening advocates and their organisations produce information materials, they generally emphasise the benefits and omit information on the major harms.

"This needs to be corrected to ensure that women can give genuinely informed consent before joining a screening programme."

In 2001, the same authors concluded there was no convincing evidence that screening programmes reduce mortality from the disease.
Not to mention: They also revealed a further 200 women out of every 2,000 experienced distress and anxiety because of false positives - a result that indicated a cancer was present but was later found to be wrong.

I'm not saying that mammograms are completely useless--they DO detect cancers. But for every one person whose life is prolonged, 10 people will have unecessary (and perhaps life shortening--think of stress, invasive surgery, toxic chemo/radiation) treatment.

And I'm not making recommendations to others, but letting your know that I myself am opting out of getting my boobs mushed for no good reason. I'd rather spend that time taking a walk in the fresh air.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The feminist in me gets really irked at the way the medical community treats women. As if we are a bunch of passive cows to be experimented on. I've already been butchered by birth control pills and consequently turned down IVF. I think I'll say no to mammograms as well and just check my boobs myself and eat lots of kale.

Ali

Kim said...

There is a test done through thermography that I have heard can detect pre-cancerous tissue in women's breasts, sometimes even sooner than mamograms would. I have also heard that many insurance carriers will not cover these thermographic tests, because they are not in the mainstream yet.
From what a peer told me, they are often offered by alternative practitioners, such as naturopaths or chiropractors.
CHECK IT OUT -- before having your breast painfully pancaked in a mamography.

Green Fertility Marie said...

I'm actually in the eat kale school. Thermography does seem to work okay from what I've heard from friends, but you still have to splash your breasts with cold water., etc., etc. How do they check for testicular cancer? I suspect it's just examining manually, no squishing, freezing, etc.--no ball-busting radiation that don't work, I bet.

Hannah said...

I had my first mammogram at 39, after I'd had a Lump in my already lumpy breasts for about a year.....and yes I had cancer.

After treatment, I had 3 more screening "follow up" mammograms in 6 month intervals....all negative. But guess what? 2 months later I found a new Lump that turned out to be more cancer. So, did someone misread my 3 mammograms? Did 3 people misread them? Or maybe the cancer just grew after I got off the table from the last mammogram.....

I don't do them any more. My breast is still healing from surgery and radiation that ended April of '05. And apparently I proved the statistic that says mammograms don't work so well for younger women. Instead I've had 2 MRIs...one of which was a false negative (right before I was diagnosed with recurrence.)

RE: thermography, it's just another fallible tool to add to the list of imperfect tests. A cheaper one to be sure....but not any more accurate.

In the end, I guess we never can be sure, and end up living life with more intensity and purpose because you never know what's gonna happen next.

gigi said...

My aunt was just diagnosed with stage 5 breast cancer. She had a mammogram 2 months ago and they saw NOTHING! She has about one week to live. I am sick to think that mammograms are so insufficient and that me and my daughter at such risk with very little preventative measures.