"Peace of Mind" or "Power of Me:" Which Kind of Person are You?
When it comes to your health and screening tests, do you subscribe to “peace of mind,” or “power of me”? The “peace of mind” crowd doesn’t mind trading the risk of a false positive for the benefit of early detection. They’ll do anything to stop disease in its tracks, no matter the cost or inconvenience. “Power of me” folks, on the other hand, believe in the power of prevention and may defer screening tests until their age puts them into a higher risk group.
There’s no right answer. But I’m convinced that when people make decisions about their health, they fall into one of these 2 categories. By knowing your type and arming yourself with good information, you’ll make smart choices about mammograms, especially given the controversial and somewhat confusing new recommendations.
That’s why we made mammograms the lead segment of our show on Monday.
A major reason for the heated response to the screening guidelines has been the lack of clear understanding about what, exactly, a medical task force does. These groups consist of impartial and unbiased experts from various specialties who synthesize the latest scientific evidence to guide practicing physicians. Half of the task force members are women.
The recommendations are sometimes controversial, but it’s important to remember they’re designed to maximize benefits of screening while minimizing its risks. Of course there are many women who have had life-saving mammograms in their 40s and even 30s. Their stories are valid and important. But, when looking at the bigger picture, the task force has decided that younger woman, on the average, are likelier to get unneeded biopsies or procedures, or to have tumors missed altogether, than to have a true cancer detected early on. Nonetheless, I think it’s healthy to have an open debate. It’s essential to keeping medicine self-reflective and accountable.
Moreover, the USPSTF recommendations on mammograms are not a blanket, one-size-fits-all prescription for every woman. Guidelines should never replace a dialogue with your own doctor that considers your individual risk. After all, you are the expert of your own body. That’s also why I disagree with the recommendation that physicians not focus on teaching breast self-exams. I continue to advise and encourage women to examine their breasts. Studies show that, especially in younger women, many breast tumors are first detected during self-exam.
Finally, let me remind everyone that detection does not equal prevention. Mammograms do not cure or prevent cancer; they just find it. So do not forget the things YOU can do to help prevent breast cancer. For example: lose weight if you’re overweight, keep it under 2 alcoholic drinks a day, and take 1000 units/day of Vitamin D. Remember, we cannot test to safety; we must live to safety.