There was considerable media attention following the publication of the results for the 25 year Canadian study on mammogram screenings that showed these screenings aren’t saving lives to the extent that we’re led to believe. Among them was an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Why I Never Got a Mammogram by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a similar article to one by Christie Aschwanden, My doctor told me to get a routine mammogram. Here’s why I won’t, that I wrote about last October in Turtles, birds, bears and breast cancer. I also watched an interview with Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker. I have a lot of respect for all three women for speaking so openly about such a personal decision, sharing how they reached it, and leading the way for the rest of us.
There was a time when we only went to the doctor when we had signs and symptoms of an illness or injury, but now we also go for wellness checks that we hope will find signs of illness so we can treat it before we are noticeably physically affected. We’re told that if cancer is found early, it can be treated and lives will be saved, but studies are showing that lives aren’t necessarily being saved, at least not for all cancers. However, we continue to treat all cancers as if they are life-threatening, and people are being treated for cancers that will never result in illness in their lifetime. Some will even disappear on their own – see this study published in JAMA, The Natural History of Invasive Breast Cancers Detected by Screening Mammography.
It’s currently not clear in many instances which cancers are life-threatening and which are not, so making the decision to be screened is really very personal. Thanks to the Internet we have access to so much information but sometimes it can be hard to distinguish the crazy advice (particularly when we’re desperate and conventional medicine hasn’t helped) from the legitimate advice. Over the years I’ve learned that I had to figure out what works best for me, and I’ve decided to refrain from the stress of being one of the “worried well”.
Patients are people, too!
I hope you’ll read the articles and listen to the interview I refer to above, and that they help you to decide what works best for you.