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Are Mammograms worth it? by Dr.Iain Corness

Mammograms

There has been a fair bit of negative thinking with Mammograms of late.  For example, a lady has three annual clear Mammograms and then finds she has advanced breast cancer during year number four.  She then says the testing was useless?  So should we just drop mammograms altogether?

However, I ask you to look at the "real time" situation.  So today a cancer was found.  The most important question is when did it start to grow?  This year, last year, or the year before?  With previously clear mammograms we know that this cancer is less than 12 months old.  That is a better starting point for treatment than a similar case where the cancer is two years old or more.

Unfortunately, some fast growing cancers would be impossible to pick up, even if the person had monthly mammograms.  However, the slow growing variety can be picked up years ahead.  Repeated mammography is still one of the best diagnostic procedures we have.  And it is better than nothing.

Likewise, Breast Self Examination (BSE) has its detractors as well as its proponents.  Sure, a lot depends upon how well the woman carries out this self testing, but again, surely it is better to look than to carry on in blissful innocence?

I do not believe the doomsayers who would tell you that the outcome is just the same.  Breast cancer is like all cancers - the sooner you find it, the sooner you can deal with it and the earlier treatment is administered, the better the outcome.  In fact, did you know that Studies from the American National Cancer Institute show that 96 percent of women whose breast cancer is detected are still alive five or more years after treatment.  This is called a 96 percent five year survival rate, one of the ways we measure the severity of life threatening cancers.  If the five year survival rate was only 10 percent, - in other words, after five years only 10 percent were still alive, then I would also probably feel that predictive testing was not all that worthwhile.  But it is not that bleak an outcome in this case – 96 percent are still alive and many go on for many, many years.

Finally, just because there is the “cancer gene” in your family, this does not mean that you are going to get breast cancer.  It just means there is a “tendency” for the women in that family to develop breast cancer.  Angelina Jolie was a little premature in my books.

Ladies, talk with your doctor regarding breast screening, and ignore sensationalism in the popular press!

 

 

 

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