This week, another study questioned the wisdom of advising women to get mammograms annually or even less frequently. Published in the British Medical Journal, The Canadian National Breast Screening Study concluded that having mammograms did not improve mortality rates for women 40-59 over the 25-year period they were followed. The American Cancer Society responded to the study by reiterating its recommendation for women 40 and older to have annual screening. In addition, every time one of these studies surfaces, scores of breast cancer survivors raise their hands to be counted among women who believe their lives were saved by a mammogram that found their cancer “in time.”

Yet, understandably, healthy women with no history or signs of breast cancer are wondering how to proceed. Each mammogram does expose a woman to a low level of radiation, and a “false positive” could lead to unnecessary additional testing.

HEALTHY HAIRDRESSER relies on City of Hope for a medical perspective on issues like this one. It’s important to us to pass along information and explanations that come from some of the most respected experts in the country.

“This study does not change my view,” says Laura Kruper, M.D., head of breast surgery service at City of Hope and director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center. “Eighty percent of breast cancers are spontaneous, so there’s really no way to determine who is at risk and should be getting regular mammograms.”

Kruper agrees with the many observers who see flaws and shortcomings in the study. Limiting the evaluation to mortality rates can be misleading, Kruper says. “The problem with that is that our treatments are so good now that a woman presenting with later-stage disease might do as well as a woman who has earlier-stage breast cancer because of the better treatments,” she explains. She adds that quality of life during treatment is another factor women should consider. “With breast cancer caught at earlier stages, there is often less-aggressive surgery—perhaps no chemotherapy. That really matters, since chemo can have lifelong effects on people.”

As with every decision about treatment for any disease, each case is different and patients are advised to discuss their individual situation with their doctor. Be your own health advocate! HEALTHY HAIRDRESSER wants you and your clients to stay well!

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