Here We Go Again (Mammograms)

This essay was originally published on July 9, 2015. 

 

“Sweet Jesus in a Jeep” is a popular expression of frustration I see time and time again on social media. I refrain from using it, since I am Jewish, but I’ve been known to verbally exclaim “Jesus Christ!” on a regular basis to express frustration about many things. At present, I am in a position where I am completely flummoxed, and there isn’t an adequate expression to describe my frustration with the raging mammography debate.

This week, another study surfaced debunking mammography, and both¬†Reuters and NPR reported it, re-igniting the debate about how more mammograms lead to the “overdiagnosis” of breast cancer, and do not increase the survival rate from the disease beyond the ten years following diagnosis. I have one thing to say about that: So fucking what?

I think by now we understand that mammography is a flawed detection method, and that the research community needs to come up with a better way to screen women for breast cancer. Researchers in North America and around the world are currently working on treatments that will manage certain cancers, and there is real hope that these treatments will benefit many people. In the meantime, another segment of the research community is intent on berating women for their reliance upon mammography, and the epidemic of breast cancer it causes.

We have two extremes: women, like myself, who had mammograms and were found to have early-stage breast cancer, and younger women, some of whom found lumps through self-examination, and are diagnosed with aggressive forms of late-stage breast cancer. In the middle are the millions of women who go for regular mammograms to either assuage their fears, or because they have family histories of breast cancer. All of us, I think, are confused and angry at the message these studies are sending: We are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t go for mammograms, yet there isn’t even a whiff of a suggestion about any viable alternatives we can explore to protect our health. Genetic testing is one alternative, but there is plenty of discourse out there finding fault with that, too. So, what are we supposed to do?

Here’s my suggestion: stop pursuing these ridiculous studies that don’t do anything except alarm the public, and cause divisive arguments about who is and isn’t benefiting from mammography. We are courting another controversy where one doesn’t need to exist. Mammography is becoming one more reason for women to feel bad about themselves. Instead of shaming us, why not come up with better ways to help us?

I am getting very angry at the judgement women dealing with breast cancer encounter at every turn. We are chided for going for mammograms; we are vilified for having bilateral mastectomies in an effort to protect ourselves. We are “overdiagnosed”. I want to put my fist through a wall every time I see that word.

Someone please give me a cogent, reasonable answer to this question: WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?

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