It’s October – and pink ribbons are all over; as you probably know, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While the focus is important, in my opinion, every month should be Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That said, upcoming posts will definitely skew towards this topic, as well as on Health Literacy – also celebrated this month. Two important issues that don’t always receive enough emphasis the rest of the year.
With all of the shouting about “death panels” and Obamacare, you may have missed hearing about a provision in the Affordable Care Act that directs the CDC to create a breast cancer education and awareness campaign for women 15-44 and their doctors. The new law gives breast cancer groups that support young women more funding, and mandates the National Institutes of Health to develop new screening tests, and other prevention and early detection protocols. Nine million dollars a year has been set aside for these efforts for the next 5 years.
The American Cancer Society noted that the incidence of breast cancer in younger women is relatively low, but their cancers are often more aggressive and the survival rate is lower than for women over 40.
Just to make things more confusing for women, a recent study of Swedish women showed that mammograms for women in their 40s can cut the death rate by one-fourth. However, some researchers say the study is flawed and did not use a proper analysis.
Screening advocates argue that if all 22 million American women age 40-49 were screened this year, it would save some 2,000 lives. Critics say the Swedish study did not take into account the harm that could be imposed, such as additional exposure to radiation, false positives, unnecessary biopsies and surgeries. Proponents argue that the lives saved outweigh any possible risks.
Confused? You’re not alone. The best approach is to speak with your doctor and consider your family history, health status, and other risk factors. There is no absolute when it comes to mammography, only guidelines. Screening is a personal decision that only you can make.