Mammograms: The Year of Living Dangerously? -
MY 65-YEAR-OLD MOTHER’S BREAST CANCER was detected after a routine annual mammogram. In the weeks after diagnosis, we were ushered in to see radiologists, a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, the insurance liaison, and more nurses than I could count. They all smiled reassuringly and told my mother something resembling, “The good news is that we caught it early!”
Those words were a comfort. “Early detection” has become a rallying cry for women, breast cancer survivors, and supporters alike, across the United States and beyond. As breast cancer has evolved into one of the most publicized issues in women’s health, we have been bombarded with messages of hope and promise—provided we do our part and get into the habit of annual mammography screenings as soon as we turn 40.
So in late 2009, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts formed by congressional mandate to review health-care services, published new guidelines calling for screenings once every two years starting at age 50, there was a heated response. Some in the women’s health community went as far as to say these guidelines would needlessly “kill” thousands of women.