Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The American Cancer Society is Equivocating with Women's Health

The American Cancer Society is equivocating with women’s health.

According to National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Taking a few minutes to do a breast self-exam a minimum of once a month can make a lifetime of difference. Nearly 70% of all breast cancers are found through self-exams and with early detection the 5-year survival rate is 98%. If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don't panic—8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.”

I found my cancer by self-examination. It was surgically removed at an early stage. I think this is the best possible outcome. Find the cancer. Get rid of it. Get on with my life.

I wrote ACS: “I'm writing to ask that the ACS recommend monthly breast self-exams.  I recently had a mastectomy because I found a lump.  The mammogram didn't see it. Mammograms miss 30% of tumors. If I had not been doing monthly self-exams, I could be dead now.  I think it would save lives if ACS were to endorse monthly breast self-exams.”

They wrote back a long meandering letter, which I’ll print in its entirety after I have my say. Their main objection to endorsing Breast Self Exam is that it makes some women uncomfortable.  I don’t know any women who are comfortable with mammograms.  ACS endorses them. Very few women are comfortable with having doctor poke and prod their bodies.  ACS endorses that.
So, why not Self-Exams?   I like the motto of the Breast Cancer Survivors organization Beyond Boobs: “If you’re old enough to have them, you’re old enough to check them.”  Any other answer makes no sense.  Women’s lives are at stake.  Men’s too.

Here’s the ACS reply to my simple and reasonable request.

Congratulations on your survivorship!  Thank you for taking the time to share your suggestion regarding monthly BSE with the American Cancer Society. You make some good points and your feelings are certainly understandable.  You are correct that mammograms are not perfect at finding breast cancer.  The American Cancer Society believes the use of mammograms, MRI (in women at high risk), clinical breast exams, and finding and reporting breast changes early, according to our recommendations for breast cancer early detection offer women the best chance to reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer. This approach is clearly better than any one exam or test alone. I have forwarded your feedback to our staff who handle these considerations.  Please be assured that your input is important to us and helps us improve our information.

It is important to note the Society has placed emphasis on breast self-awareness, which for some women may be achieved by regular or occasional BSE, or simply being attentive to changes that can be noticed during daily activities such as bathing, dressing, etc.

Breast self-examination is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.

Research has shown that BSE plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for each woman. Some women feel very comfortable doing BSE regularly (usually monthly after their period) which involves a systematic step-by-step approach to examining the look and feel of one's breasts. Other women are more comfortable simply feeling their breasts in a less systematic approach, such as while showering or getting dressed or doing an occasional thorough exam. Sometimes, women are so concerned about "doing it right" that they become stressed over the technique. Doing BSE regularly is one way for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel and to notice any changes. The goal, with or without BSE, is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.

Women who choose to use a step-by-step approach to BSE should have their BSE technique reviewed during their physical exam by a health professional. It is okay for women to choose not to do BSE or not to do it on a regular schedule such as once every month. However, by doing the exam regularly, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and you can more readily find any changes. If a change occurs, such as development of a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or retraction (turning inward), redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk (such as staining of your sheets or bra), you should see your health care professional as soon as possible for evaluation. Remember that most of the time, however, these breast changes are not cancer.

I can also provide the following link to view our complete recommendations:

American Cancer Society recommendations for early breast cancer detection in women without breast symptoms

Thank you again for sharing your concerns with  American Cancer Society.

Online Cancer Information Specialist

If you have any questions, please contact us via http://www.cancer.org or call 1-800-ACS-2345. Information Specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This e-mail message is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with qualified health professionals who are familiar with your individual medical needs. The American Cancer Society makes no warranties of any kind regarding this e-mail message, including but not limited to any warranty of accuracy, completeness, currency, reliability, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose and such warranties are expressly disclaimed.

Copyright (c) 2007 The American Cancer Society, Inc. 

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