Susan reached that point in her life where she was no longer a young adult trying to make it through the trials and tribulations of life that are young children, a new job and a traveling husband. But neither had she made it to the stage where the kids are in college, she has a steady job and her husband has time to spend quiet evenings at home with her. Susan had just turned 40. She celebrated with two parties, one for her family and one for her friends. Chocolate cake and ice cream were had at home, while facials, mani-pedis and Chianti were had while painting the town red.
Then Jill, her BFF, asked her if she was ready to schedule her mammogram. They would do it together and make a fun night of it. “What? I’m only forty,” came the terse response. She had a point. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend screening mammograms until age 50, while the Canadiens and Swiss do not recommend screening mammograms to their citizens. Susan rightfully thought of herself as young and that there was no way she was going to get cancer, so she tended to agree with the USPSTF.
Can women in their 40s get cancer? Can they get breast cancer? Are mammograms helpful?
The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece on February 27, 2014 that argues for initiating screening mammography at age 45 and stopping at age 75, unless you have a family history of breast cancer, in which case you may want to start earlier. The author opines that women who have regular screening mammograms experience less deaths from breast cancer, less radical and mutilating surgery, and less complicated systemic treatments, as evidenced in multiple studies.
But when should you start and when should you stop? If you have a family history of breast cancer, start your mammograms earlier. If you feel a mass, go get a mammogram now! Since at age 50 it is proven that mammograms are effective, and because it may take 3-5 years for a cancer to grow, starting at age 45 is a reasonable alternative for the author. Women at age 75 still have a life expectancy of twelve years, so having a mammogram at age 75 will still have positive benefits.
So, why do I argue for forty? We are a wealthy country. We spend billions upon billions of dollars on unproductive government programs such as paying billionaire farmers to not grow food. If we can pay billionaire farmers and multi-national corporations to not grow food, then surely we can, as a society, spend some money on mammograms for young women. Mammograms in young women can save lives by finding a breast cancer at an earlier stage, when the benefits of treatment will be even greater and the costs cheaper.
Screening mammograms are effective. Screening mammograms save lives. Screening mammograms will keep a young mother alive so that she can help her kids with homework. Screening mammograms will keep grandma coming around to shower gifts on her babies. Screening mammograms will keep wives healthy so that loving couples can fly away on their dream vacations.
Get your mammogram. Save the Tatas! Save your life. Start at age 40.