My 40th birthday comes in less than a month and, right on schedule, my ob.gyn handed me the paperwork last week to get my first screening mammogram. Yesterday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new recommendations that will now have women younger than 50 years skipping screening mammograms completely. Will I still be getting my screening mammogram? You bet, I’ll get it done before the year is out–so that my insurance company will still pay for it.
Why? Because cancer is a truly terrifying word for most of us. Yes, it’s an irrational fear that I might develop breast cancer before age 50. Given my family history, it’s far more likely that I will develop heart disease. Still, like many women, I’m far more scared of developing breast cancer and the fact that it’s an irrational fear doesn’t make it any less real to me.
In the new recommendations, the USPSTF says that the small chance of detecting breast cancer on a screening mammogram in women younger than 50 years is outweighed by “the psychological harms, unnecessary imaging tests and biopsies in women without cancer, and inconvenience due to false-positive screening results.”
I think the task force misses the real fear for most women. I went through a series of imaging tests and consultations last year for what turned out to be benign thickening of tissue. It was a harrowing experience and several months of nonstop anxiety and I’d gladly go through it all over again to know that another mass was benign or to catch a tumor early. The real fear is not detecting breast cancer early, even if the risk of developing the disease is statistically very small.
So, I’ll get that screening mammogram this year but what about next year and the year after that? Will my insurance company stop covering screening mammograms for women younger than 50 and will I end up having to spend my own money to feel reassured?
—Kerri Wachter, @knwachter on Twitter