Why The New ACS’ Breast Cancer Guidelines Are Hurting My Soul

A lot of you may know by now (whether you watch the news, read the paper, get carrier pigeons) that the American Cancer Society has recently changed their Breast Cancer Guidelines for early detection. I’m finding this difficult to swallow, mainly because of personal experience.

This is a direct quote from the ACS website on the new guideline change:

“Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so. The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered.

Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.

Women age 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.

Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.”

This is for women with “average risk” for breast cancer. This means: No personal history of breast cancer, no family history of breast cancer, no genetic mutation known to increase the risk of getting breast cancer (such as BRCA) and women who have not had radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30.

Of course, they do mention that women who are at a high risk for getting breast cancer should get an MRI and Mammogram every year.

They also explain the pros and cons of Mammograms:

“Mammograms

Regular mammograms can often help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful. A mammogram can find breast changes that could be cancer years before physical symptoms develop. Results from many decades of research clearly show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early, less likely to need aggressive treatment (like surgery to remove the entire breast [mastectomy] and chemotherapy), and more likely to be cured.

Mammograms are not perfect. They miss some cancers. And sometimes more tests will be needed to find out if something found on a mammogram is or is not cancer. There’s also a small possibility of being diagnosed with a cancer that never would have caused any problems had it not been found during screening. It‘s important that women getting mammograms know what to expect and understand the benefits and limitations of screening.”

Personally, I have a few bones to pick here.

These guidelines have changed, yes, but what about those who are under 45 years old who are at “average risk” for getting cancer? Upon researching the Young Survival Coalition’s website, I came across some statistics.

“Approximately 70 thousand men and women ages 15–39 are diagnosed with cancer in the US each year. Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in this age group.”

“ Compared to older women, young women generally face more aggressive cancers and lower survival rates”

“ Young women with breast cancer struggle with many issues either not present or much less severe in the lives of older women, including:

  • The possibility of early menopause
  • Effects on fertility
  • Questions about pregnancy after diagnosis
  • Concerns about body image
  • Challenges to financial stability”

My oldest sister Wendy passed away on February 7th, 2009 from breast cancer. She was diagnosed at age 30, and when she was diagnosed it was already Stage 4 Metastatic cancer. She had just had her first and only child. She had no idea that she had a family history, she didn’t know that this was even a possibility for her. It literally came from nowhere. She decided to fight, and fight she did. She lasted 10 years and lost her battle at the age of 40.

What about all of those women? The ones who don’t know that they are high risk?

Or what about the women who aren’t even at high risk and still end up getting their death sentence because they didn’t get checked out soon enough?

And all of this mumbo jumbo about how women need to be “aware of the limitations and setbacks of screenings”…Seriously? I’m pretty sure that if having a mammogram had even the slightest chance of saving my life because of early detection, I’m going to want to get one. Yes, they’re uncomfortable. Yes, they squish down so hard I think I might pop. It sure as hell beats losing one or BOTH of my breasts due to missing something only a machine could detect.

I miss my sister every day. If there is one thing I would like to pass on to anyone about losing her is this: I don’t care who you are. What your background is. Please, get checked. Take care of yourself. Physical exams are just as important. Not enough women take the time to check for lumps and that’s a HUGE issue as well. If getting mammograms every year could save your life, you should. Even if you’re at “average risk”. I know too many people who were at “average risk” who have lost their battle, or are fighting it now.

Be kind to your bodies. And ACS, get your shit together.

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