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They Say: No Breast Cancer Screening for Women Under 50

1615456888_3b1798901fIn the second trimester of my second pregnancy, my OB felt a suspicious breast lump.

The surgeon thought we should take it out — despite the fact that the ultrasound found it to be benign-looking, while my OB and I wanted to wait.  Four months and one needle biopsy later (done for reassurance), I went under then knife while I was still breastfeeding my newborn.

The lump was thankfully benign.  It was my second, my third occurred just last fall.  That one was removed surgically after a failed core biopsy.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task force, those surgeries probably should never have occurred (and the third one certainly wouldn’t have occurred since it was discovered by mammogram).  They recently announced controversial new guidelines that turn the tables on preventative breast health care for women.

For years, women have been dutifully getting mammograms and doing monthly breast self-exams, taking comfort in the fact that no news is good news, but bad news is better when caught early.  The task force’s new guidelines, however, say that women under 50 don’t need regular mammograms and that older women need them just every two years.  Not only that, they all but call breast self-exams useless.

The news has left women confused and concerned.  Confused, because these guidelines are so wildly off-course from what our doctors have taught us.  Concerned, because insurance companies may soon stop paying for preventative care.  (That’s unlikely to happen any time soon, says Katherine Sebelius.)

The problem, says the group, is the risk/benefit ratio.  Mammograms aren’t 100 percent effective in catching cancers, and false positives are very common, putting healthy women through unnecessary medical procedures and creating stress and anxiety.  For one woman’s life to be saved from breast cancer by mammography, says the group, 1,900 women need to be screened.

Despite my three “false positives,” I’m not ready to give up on the notion that I play at least a small role in the health of my breasts.  My second lump was felt through a SBE, my third through mammogram.  And sure, they were benign — and I get that that’s the point, they never needed treatment in the first place — but what if they hadn’t been?  I’d take that anxiety and minor surgery– even while nursing a newborn — over the worry that the lump may be something more sinister.  And I can’t help but think about my co-workers and friends who’ve been dealt a different diagnosis, despite the fact that they’re young and weren’t thought to be at-risk.

What do you think about the group’s recommendation?

Photo: sunsets for you, Flickr

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