Jul 16, 2008

Self Exam vs. Mammogram? Use Your Common Sense and Be Proactive

Nancy, a personal friend and colleague at work had a recurrence of breast cancer a few months ago. She felt a hard lump and rushed to the doctor. He was skeptical, for the mammogram was normal, but my friend (an M.D. herself) is no Chicken Little, so her doctor ordered tests and an ultrasound, and sure enough the lump was cancerous. Nancy is now recovering from a mastectomy and will have to take a chemo pill for the next five years.

Watching NBC news last night, she was treated to the sight and sound of Dr. Robert Bazell endorsing regular mammograms over self-exams. He said that the American Cancer Society had stopped recommending self-examinations as a form for detecting breast cancer years ago. There was no scientific proof that regular self-examinations worked better than regularly scheduled mammograms. Brian Williams, cool and skeptical, questioned Robert's remarks. Here's the link to the newscast: Breast Cancer Self Exam.

And below is the letter Nancy wrote to NBC news. By the way, my good friend Leslie died of breast cancer two years ago. She had relied on mammograms and her doctor's advice. Little good that did her! Oh, yes, I know there are exceptions to the rule, but women KNOW their bodies and if something feels off, well, I will pit instinct and self-awareness over a cold and indifferent machine any day.

Here is Nancy's letter to NBC Nightly News:

Dear Mr. Williams,

You were right when you said that probably many women were screaming at their television screens as they listened to a report denouncing the benefits of self-breast examination. I was one of them and I am still screaming.

Five years ago I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer after a routine annual physical with my doctor. I had had a mammogram only a few months earlier. If I had practiced a self-breast examination, I would have discovered it myself. For that reason, during these five years of remission I have practiced it every month or so. In April of this year while I was taking a shower, I felt something unusual in my left breast. Again, I had cancer. Among a battery of diagnostic tests, a mammogram was performed. The results of this mammogram practiced six weeks after the tumor was first discovered, was negative for a tumor. It was, however, confirmed by ultrasound and biopsy.

If I had not done self-breast examination and not pursued my concerns with my physician, but had trusted a diagnosis to a mammogram, the cancer would not have been discovered until many months later. My prognosis which is excellent now, would have been very different.

I seriously question the wisdom of anyone who discounts the value of self-breast examinations. Could it be that these are free and mammograms reap huge financial gains to some in the health care industry? This may seem cynical, but it makes you wonder. In addition, it was very surprising that spokesmen for the American Cancer Society would discontinue conducting campaigns for self-breast examination. How difficult or even how expensive, would it be to promote a three pronged approach to preventing breast cancer: annual physical, mammogram, and self-breast examination?

As I now enjoy good health and as I fume at the folly of the “experts” on your news report, I am of the sincere opinion that these experts be taken out at dawn and shot for their irresponsible advice.


Nancy Faux

Richmond, Virginia

1 comment:

Meg said...

I'm sending this to everybody. Thank you!