I was shocked to read this on a blog I link to:
No, I refuse to have a mammogram.
It’s a dirty little secret of the medical profession, with all the scare talk and big shiny posters about how “mammograms save lives”, that the health benefits of mammograms are not scientifically proven. There is no proof that they save any lives at all. It is, however, certain they make some people a lot of money.
Furthermore, breast self-exams - you know, that thing we’re supposed to do every month and feel guilty if we skip? Doesn’t help us either.
You can click on the above to see the links she includes as evidence. Here's what else she says:
A common way to justify the nerve-wracking, expensive, fear-inducing body self checks and mammograms is for doctors to repeat ad nauseam “Studies prove women who get these exams survive an average of two years longer than women who don’t!”
BUT BUT BUT:
Think about this logically.
If your cancer is detected two years earlier than it normally would have been… you haven’t really lived two years longer. Instead, what you’ve “gained” is two extra years of medical treatments that fail to save your life.
In other words, as the above articles show, “early detection” - that is, detection of cancer at a stage a woman wouldn’t ordinarily notice any differences in her breasts - does not save women’s lives.
Yet a slick, brilliant, fear mongering media campaign has been aimed at us for years. “Mammograms save lives!” “Early detection saves lives!” “Every woman over 40 needs to have a mammogram!”
This, combined with the constant stories from women who have them on how uncomfortable, painful, and humiliating mammograms are, make me suspect the entire purpose of this mammogram scam is to sexually torture women and get away with it. I can’t tell you how many times people have looked at me - I am very large breasted - and made some comment like, “Wow, it sure is gonna hurt you when you have to go get a mammogram!” They always look shocked when I tell them I have no intention of doing so. “But but but - you HAVE to!” People with no reason to have any interest in my health get upset when they discover I will not fulfill their sadistic fantasy of having my large breasts clamped into a giant vise and irradiated. It reminds me of the sort of sadistic glee I would see on people’s faces when they would look at my hugely pregnant stomach and tell me the worst labor horror stories they could recall.
I'm not going to go digging around for stats (and I would really appreciate if, if you would like to do so, you don't post them here), but I will share my own experience, which is diametrically opposed to the above claims. I will also note that I've been working with some of the most esteemed breast cancer specialists in the country, and I think they would take issue with some of the above.
I don't really know that mammograms or self-checks are effective in picking up breast cancer. If you have dense breast tissue, as I do, those buggers can hide out. My cancer wasn't easily identifiable from a mammogram, though the mammogram indicated the need for further tests, which eventually led to an ultrasound guided biopsy and a cancer diagnosis. And, while I did eventually find a lump and may well have found it sooner had I been doing self exams, it's also true that the lump was likely present but missed at my annual exam in June.
But I will also point out that I have large breasts AND I have had quite a few mammograms. News flash: in my experience, they don't hurt. Or, rather - if they hurt, then 1) the technician is incompetent, and/or 2) you need to cut out the caffeine before you have your mammogram. But the mammogram, just as a procedure, is not inherently painful, just as a cervical swab is not inherently painful, though it can be if you have a condition that makes your cervix sensitive or if you have a GYN that isn't well-trained. Women should be angry that mammograms haven't always been sensitively and carefully administered, certainly, but recently, it seems that they have become a better experience for many, if not most, women.
But none of this really frustrated me about Amananta's post. The thing I found most upsetting was her assumption that women with breast cancer are going to die of breast cancer. Of course, when I was diagnosed, that's what I immediately assumed. And, of course, I still worry about that. But what I'm learning is that more women survive it than don't. There are some oncologists who even talk about being able to cure it (which is the hope for me), and my surgeon talks about it as a chronic condition, like diabetes, that can be treated and managed for years and years and years and years (and I'll take that, frankly). But a huge factor in survival is early detection, and that's what the self-checks and the mammograms are all about trying to do.
Determining what health care services one will or will not avail oneself of, just like determining one's course of treatment for a particular illness, is a very personal thing, and I support Amananta's right to make these decisions for herself. What makes me sad in reading her post, though, is that the women who are at greatest risk are the women who don't have access to healthcare, women who can't afford mammograms or don't have access to them. Women of color, particularly African American women, are at enormous risk. Yet Amananta has revisioned mammograms as a plot to make money at women's expense, as a form of "sexual torture," and such a ludicrous statement seems to me to make light of the struggles that women with breast cancer or who are at risk of breast cancer face (not to mention making light of actual sexual torture).
There is plenty to be critical of when it comes to the Breast Cancer Awareness Industry - absolutely. But spreading misinformation about breast cancer is not an ethical response.