The Mammogram Controversy

Mammograms are a safe procedure that only ensures a woman’s continued safety as she gets into the “risk years” for breast cancer, right?

Well, some in medicine are saying that mammograms are not necessarily a one size fits all when it comes to women in their forties, meaning the notion that it is absolutely necessary for women in this age bracket to have regular mammograms may be a fallacy, and in fact may be doing more harm than good in some cases.

But why would that be? And why is this controversy just now getting more publicity?

The reason for the publicity of the controversy, which has sprung up in the past, but with no resolution, is that an organization called the American College of Physicians, representing several doctors, banned together and announced a consensus.

The opinion was that they believe women should now consult their individual doctors on whether or not they personally should have a mammogram performed, based on their medical history and likelihood for developing breast cancer based on the history of the female side of their family.

The concern comes in when these women in their forties get the mammogram performed, and are exposed to unnecessary radiation and biopsies, when it really is more of a pressing issue (most doctors feel, apparently), when a women is in her fifties, and it is at that time more worth the risk and inconvenience, shall we say, of having a mammogram performed and any biopsy that might follow.

While many physicians have staunchly advocated getting mammograms once a year for all women in their forties, regardless of their background history, some are saying that the risks may outweigh the benefits for those not in a high risk category, and a one size fits all recommendation is not in order.

This really is a difficult one to call, because on one hand you have the staggering supporting data that early detection of breast cancer can help increase a woman’s odds of successful treatment tremendously, and on the other hand, you have the risk that is run from the radiation exposure and unnecessary chemo and biopsies, not to mention the psychological effects of giving mammograms yearly to every woman regardless of risk category in her forties.

It seems likely that the debate will rage on, as their does seem to be a clear division between medical professionals on this subject, but in the end, it should really be up to the woman which path she wants to take, and hopefully insurance companies won’t use this recommendation as an excuse to not pay for yearly mammograms for women in their forties who exercise this option.