Mammograms: Do We Really Need Them?

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Dr. Kathy Maupin and Brett Newcomb discuss recent reports on the subject of Mammograms and how often they are necessary. Early diagnosis and early intervention is the correct approach.

This week, Brett Newcomb and I are talking about a new and controversial report out in Canada that suggests that women don’t really need regular mammograms. The point of the report seems to be that breast cancer is treatable and that most women now survive breast cancer, even if they are late in discovering that they have it.

While this is becoming more true (women do tend to survive breast cancer now,) there are still a few women who do not. The best way to make sure that you are not one of these women is to continue to demand regular mammograms and ultrasounds. It is all well and good to talk about statistical averages, but not if you are the anomaly.

The reason we began to discuss this is that there was an article in the St Louis Post Dispatch on April 1, 2014 written by two prominent female doctors that were challenging the Canadian report by observing flaws in the research design and process. These doctors claim that the equipment used in the study were not the newest and best available and that the operators of the equipment were not recently trained in the most efficacious placement of the breast on the mammogram machine. They also stated that the women measured in the study were not a true random sampling, but were a more restricted group. Therefore the conclusions of the study are suspect.

This week, I talk about the history of mammographies in the United States and the way that the initial recommendations for obtaining them were established. While I disagree with this particular methodology, the mainstream of medicine seems to be moving in the direction of recommending that women over forty do not need to have these tests every year, but rather should spread them out to every two or three years.

I am strongly opposed to this idea. I think that women should begin to have regular mammograms in their early thirties and continue to have them every year. The best treatment for breast cancer is early detection and proper intervention. These early interventions are less radical. The woman and her doctor also have more room for decision making if she is not already at a critical level with an advanced cancer. It is easy to say, “Oh well, we can always do chemotherapy.” But, chemotherapy suppresses your immune system and subjects you to risks of other cancers. It may kill the one you are fighting, and may at that point be the most viable treatment. But is ridiculous to say that we can afford to let a woman get to that level of risk before we intervene.

That reasoning does not consider the side effects of chemotherapy; the cost and damage to the woman, as well as the increased level of risk that she undergoes awaiting the discovery of her cancer. I believe that early diagnosis and early intervention is the correct approach. As a woman and a physician, I want the most options that I can have for safe treatment and safe survival. I want that for myself and for all women.

Listen to our podcast today and make up your own mind. Then, speak with your doctor and ask for what you want and need.