Waiting is not worth your health

Published 1:22 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

As the new guidelines for mammograms set by a government task force were made public I knew there would be an outcry.

In fact, you would have to be stuffed under a rock not to see this one coming.

On Tuesday, I was made aware of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s new guidelines by simply watching the morning television news.

The guidelines suggest women 50 to 74 should have routine mammograms every two years, while risks for women 74 and above are unknown. Previously, the group suggested women 40 and older should have routine screenings every one to two years.

And just to top it all off, the new guidelines suggests women not conduct regular self exams.

After hearing the report the first person I thought of was my cousin, Valerie, who died a year ago of breast cancer at the age of 34.

If it had not been for a self-exam, she would not have had as long as she did with her family.

These new guidelines are a slap in the face to breast cancer survivors younger than 50 and it is injecting false hope into the female psyche. Think of how many women will use this information as a security blanket.

Though studies show only 7 percent of breast cancer occurs in patients under the age of 40, what most do not realize is younger patients are typically diagnosed with aggressive forms of breast cancer. And with aggressive cancers, as with any, time is the last thing you can expend.

A few weeks ago, I read an article on CNN.com (“Tweens challenged by grown-up malady: Breast cancer”) about two “tweens,” an 11 year-old and 13 year-old being diagnosed with breast cancer. In the article it was said that women with the gene mutation BRCA1 and BRCA2, which is linked to breast cancer, the disease is diagnosed six years earlier than the previous generation.

When it comes to cancer, as a society it has been beaten into our heads that early detection is the key to survival of this disease.

As far as I am concern, this is still the case. Mammograms and self-exams are vital in detecting breast cancer and thousands, if not millions, of lives have been saved with these tests.

You need to have an awareness of your body and you need to have an open, honest, communicative relationship with your doctor.

You are the only one in charge of your health. Don’t let guidelines dictate that.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a staff writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: amanda.vanderbroek@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7209.