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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Mammograms: Keep yourself abreast

    I want to go to medical school, which means I have to take a whole bunch of classes as prerequisites just to apply at some point. The worst part of all of those pre-med classes is realizing how hard it is to be perfectly healthy. It doesn’t matter if you eat healthy foods and exercise regularly: Your body is complex, and things go wrong all the time.

    So we try to know what we’re at risk for. We find out what runs in the family. We see various doctors annually. We become hypochondriacs and type our symptoms into WebMD and convince ourselves we have a brain tumor and we’re going to die next week.

    The idea of cancer often leads people to take proactive steps. For women, one of these steps is clinical breast exams every three years starting in their 20s. The Young Survival Coalition found that about 15 percent of all of the cancer diagnoses for people between the ages of 15 to 39 in the U.S. were breast cancer — which tends to be much more aggressive in younger victims. Mammograms are recommended for women 40 and older once a year, but they are often the next step for women of any age when they are believed to be at risk.

    I try to be aware of my family’s history of breast cancer and do what I can now, while also preparing to watch my health in the future.

    Unfortunately, some think that mammograms may not be the way to do this. The Canadian National Breast Screening Study followed almost 90,000 women from the ages of 40 to 59 for over 25 years in Canada. The women were put into groups of those who got annual mammogram tests and those who didn’t. Then, the study recorded and compared the numbers of deaths of those women from breast cancer. The overall conclusion? That mammograms don’t actually reduce the number of deaths due to breast cancer in basically any age group.

    The study has received some support, even from organizations like the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society. Because of the study, they are both considering loosening their mammogram guidelines.

    But others have the right idea. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging found the study to be misleading and inherently flawed. Part of their doubt arose from finding that women who already had lumps or even swollen lymph nodes were placed into the mammogram group, undermining the randomization of the study. The radiologists even said that the mammograms provided during the study were low quality.

    This makes me incredibly wary of the guidelines given to me by doctors, or even the government, for cancer screenings. I want to stay safe and healthy for my entire life, so I won’t trust guidelines based on a study that people are finding problems with. The study’s problems are just a reminder to be self-educated on personal health care.

    The truth is that mammograms and cancer screenings save lives. The American Cancer Society released an article saying that the death rates in women with breast cancer were 29 percent lower when they had received mammograms. Mammograms help doctors catch and treat the cancer early, not allowing it to spread and cause even more damage.

    We should always be working toward better ways of detecting cancer early. But until we have another method, I plan on having mammograms. While you should consider your family’s history and your own health when deciding whether to get a mammogram, remember that one study is a lot to risk your well-being on. Since mammograms pose little to no danger themselves, why not take that extra little step to make sure you’re OK?

    I already see my gynecologist once a year and give myself breast exams. If I ever feel something I know wasn’t there before, I can always schedule an appointment with my gynecologist. UA students can schedule one through Campus Health Service’s Women’s Health department. It’s better to be safe than sorry — especially when it comes to health.

    — Maura Higgs is a neuroscience and cognitive science sophomore. Follow her @maurahiggs.

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