We all know about breast cancer. Those pink ribbons supporting breast cancer research are a common sight on cars, backpacks, and pencils. The prevention of breast cancer is a serious concern. Women over 40 are encouraged to get yearly mammograms in order to detect cancer in its early stages and prevent it from growing. Another benefit of mammograms should be the peace of mind they offer women who learn they do not have breast cancer.
Recent studies, however, have shown that mammograms may not give women peace of mind. In fact, they often do the exact opposite. Mammograms are not a perfect science, and frequently, inaccurate results are given. A woman may be told she has early stages of breast cancer, or even full-fledged cancer and need to return for another mammogram, potentially have a biopsy done, and then sometimes even get surgery, or go through chemotherapy only to then discover she never had breast cancer at all. All those procedures and all the stress would severely decrease this woman's quality of life.
Recent estimates have shown that for one woman's life to be saved through breast cancer screening, over 2,000 women must have mammograms done. This means that there is a likelihood of approximately 200 false positive assessments of breast cancer and likely ten unnecessary surgeries. Often, these surgeries are full mastectomies, a difficult emotional and physical situation for a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Imagine the tragedy if you learned once your breast was removed that you didn't ever have cancer in the first place.
Some suggest that mammograms themselves are not the issue, but rather the response to the diagnosis. If women would be willing to attempt a "watch and wait" procedure, in which doctors continue to monitor any changes in the breast but no surgery is immediately attempted, perhaps there would be less hasty responses to conditions that don't exist. Many doctors debunk this though, claiming that once patients hear the words "breast cancer," all logical thinking goes out the window and they just want the problem eliminated whatever the costs.
Many experts still argue that it is better to be safe than sorry. Yes, the tools used to screen for cancer are currently imperfect. Hopefully, better technologies will be available in the future; for now, it is better to catch cancer before it spreads, these doctors say. Some have even argued that the misdiagnosed women, even those who had surgery, were so relieved to not have cancer that they were still glad they had the screening done in the first place. Many of these women still felt as though the mammograms and the surgeries saved their lives. At this point, there doesn't seem to be a healthy alternative to mammogram screenings.