National Mammography Day: Screening for Breast Cancer Saves Lives

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Think about it: where would you be today, if not for mammography?

    Me? I’d probably be dead. My breast cancer was found as a result of my annual mammogram. Even knowing exactly where it was, no one–not me, the radiologist, the oncologist, the surgeon–could feel that 2cm invasive tumor. If I’d skipped my mammogram that sunny May day–decided to play hooky, thought I was too busy, couldn’t find a parking space at the hospital–how long would it have been till I’d have noticed this sneaky cancer? Knowing how out of touch I was with my body back then, a long time. A deadly long time.

    I’m sure many of you reading this have similar stories. Even if you first felt a lump, it was probably a mammogram that gave the radiologist his or her clear look at it; that helped identify its exact location for the biopsy. Mammograms are still our best line of defense. Despite claims to the contrary by certain vocal detractors in the medical community, I believe they save lives. Because I’m certain a mammogram saved me. And with the steady increase in numbers of women getting mammograms, the death rate due to breast cancer has been dropping by 2% a year since 1990. Surely that isn’t pure coincidence.

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    Thus it’s puzzling, the American Cancer Society’s identification of a recent significant decline in mammogram screening nationwide. While screening of women age 40 and over leapt from just 39% in 1987 to 70% in 2000, since then it’s declined to 66%.

    “Mammography remains the most effective screening test for the early detection of breast cancer available to women today,” noted Carla Kath, a regional communications director for the ACS. In a strange Catch-22 situation, the 3.5% decline in the incidence of breast cancer in this country–the number of American women being diagnosed with breast cancer–has been linked not to more effective treatment, but to fewer women receiving mammograms. The cancer’s still there; it’s just hiding, lying in wait till it’s large enough to be felt, and dangerous enough to kill.

    If you have breast cancer and still have a breast or two, you’re no doubt getting a regular mammogram. (And if you’re not–what’s up with that?!) The real issue here is our girlfriends, sisters, daughters, and colleagues who don’t have time, don’t like doctors, listened to the researchers who said mammograms don’t save lives, are scared of what they might find out… in other words, all those women we know and love who somehow keep “forgetting” to get a mammogram. On this, National Mammogram Day, let’s take the opportunity to remind them, in no uncertain terms: GO GET A MAMMOGRAM.

    One in 200 40-year-old women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. When you’re 50, the incidence is 1 in 50. At age 60, it’s down to 1 in 23. How many women do you know, even if only casually, between 40 and 60? How many will get breast cancer this year? Odds are, at least one. What if your reminder, today, is what identifies this woman’s cancer early… and saves her life? Your electronic address list, an e-mail server, and a few keystrokes is all it’ll take for most of us. Do your sisters a favor; rattle a few cages. Just for today, be mouthy and irritating. Pin ’em down; stand there while they call and make an appointment. Who knows? It just might be a matter of life and death.


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    Can't afford a mammogram? Check out our breast cancer screening resources for underserved women.

Published On: October 19, 2007