Monday, November 9, 2009

Can We Skip a Mammogram??

This blog entry is a bit different from my usual blog fare here, but I think it is important to side step the fun stuff occasionally to stay informed about topics that can be life saving!! We just left the month of October which is Breast Cancer Awareness month, but we as women should make every month Breast Cancer Awareness month and continue to stay informed 365 days a year!

The New York Times ran an interesting article last week in regards to ongoing data of the benefits of mammograms. For years physicians have been telling their patients that once you turn 40 you should be getting yearly mammograms to screen for breast cancer. That timetable is pretty standard unless you have a family history for breast cancer or are a carrier of the BRCA gene, in which they might even suggest mammograms every 6 months. Now, there are physicians that are going on record to state that this may not be as necessary as once thought. Dr. Laura Esserman, a breast surgeon from the University of California, San Francisco, has written an article on this ongoing debate in The Journal of the American Medical Association. In the article she discusses the issue of "who is helped and who is not" by such frequent mammography. Dr. Esserman says that women over 70 can stop being screened, due to the fact that in this particular age bracket tumors caused by breast cancer tend to be very slow growing and in most cases are not likely to be the cause of death. On the other hand woman in the age group of 50-70 there is good evidence that screening can reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent. So this all sounds good right? Well, here is the gray area....what about the woman from 40-50? This is the group where the heat of the debate begins. Many feel that woman in this "gray area" are being "over treated" and "over diagnosed", by being exposed to excess radiation and unnecessary biopsies. She feels that the evidence benefiting screening women in that age bracket is lacking. Some physicians who agree with Dr. Esserman feel this can lead to a larger margin of false diagnosis and just additional stress on the patient.

Dr. Walden was on Fox News this weekend discussing this important topic, and I thought there were some great points made. First of all is know yourself! In other words, if you are in your 40's and you are post menopausal and on hormones, or if you have extremely dense breasts it is probably wise to make sure you are screened regularly. As always, Dr. Walden suggests that you follow the  current recommendations of the American Cancer Society (yearly mammography one you hit age 40) and your personal physician first and foremost. BUT, it is always important to keep an ear to the ground and pay attention to the ongoing research on this topic. Anything that is going to keep us ladies ahead of this terrible disease is a step in the right direction, and I really believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! So, until we find the cure for breast cancer let's always keep ourselves "in the know". Take a look at the Fox interview featuring Dr. Walden below.

Have a great Monday!!!

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