In 2015, an announcement came through the headlines that mammograms would once again be recommended to start at the age of 50. They — the panel of U.S. panel of medical experts and recommenders — stated it would be beneficial for women to start the breast health discussions with their doctors in their 40’s, and mammograms should be considered earlier than 50 only if there is concern, such as a family history.
I was livid when I heard this news.
I felt a tightening in my chest, a knot in my throat, and some unwanted agitation for at least an hour or two afterwards. I started to see a future that was dim for many. This change could harm so many lives in so many ways. I thought about my life and how I had to fight for a mammogram at the age of 33. If I didn’t stand my ground, I would not have lived to see 50, the new mammogram standard. In fact, I would have been lucky to see 40 – the new recommended age to start the discussion about breast health.
What could this mean for you? I realize I am not in any role to be giving insurance advice, but this is what I am predicting could happen. Insurance companies could eliminate paying for mammograms for any women under the age of 50. This is the second time the recommendations have stated the age of 50 for mammograms. If insurance companies follow this standard, I could definitely see insurance changes ahead. Unfortunately, this could lead to a higher increase of breast cancer deaths because the “early detection” mammograms might be taken away.
Most, if not all, recommendations are made for the masses, the majority. It is not made for those people that have the exception to the rule. I first started talking about breast health in my 20’s. Why? Because I had a family history. At that time, my grandma, her sister, and my mom had all been diagnosed with the disease. I was not going to leave my health to chance.
I knew early detection was the key I needed to survive.
My first doctor I found when I moved to my town did not have the same views. My family history did not matter. Guess what? She didn’t last long as my doctor. I quickly found a doctor that took the time to listen to my concerns and not dismiss them. I am a human being; I deserved to be treated like one, not a textbook statistic.
This recommendation scares me. I see younger women being diagnosed more often and it is typically with a more aggressive form of cancer. I realize mammograms are not perfect for the women under 40 category because their dense breast tissue makes diagnosing difficult. But, I also know that getting a baseline and looking for those minute changes could save a life. Talk to your doctor and open up the needed discussion of breast health. Tell them your concerns. Ask your questions. Be proactive.
Angela Banker is a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a sister; she is also a young survivor, a caregiver, a supporter, and a fighter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, and found herself empowered to share her story to raise awareness about breast cancer. Angela participates in Relay For Life, started the Sisters Beating Breast Cancer page to inspire others, and continues to "fight like a girl" with the hope that her daughter will never have to hear the dreaded words, "You have cancer."