NPR logo Spare Me The New 'Guidelines'


Spare Me The New 'Guidelines'

Tell Me More Editor Alicia Montgomery (left) enjoys a moment with her mother Joan F. Tilghman, a breast cancer survivor, during the 2009 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Washingon, D.C. Courtesy of Alicia Montgomery hide caption

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Courtesy of Alicia Montgomery

In today's program, Tell Me More continued the conversation about the changes in the screening regime for breast cancer, recently recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Today, we heard from Cindy Pearson. She's the executive director of the National Women's Health Network, and her organization applauded the new guidelines.

Tomorrow, we get the other side of the story from journalist and breast cancer survivor Rene Syler. And that's the side of this story that I — and many women close to me — live on.

If my mother had followed these new guidelines — skipping self-exams, and waiting until age of 50 to get a mammogram — she'd likely be dead now. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43, after finding a lump during a self-examination.

So, I don't really appreciate efforts to relieve me and other women of the "anxiety and breast cancer worry" associated with screening tools, such as clinical breast exams. Even though the proponents of this new regime tout it as a rational response to years of research, to me, it all has the whiff of the "don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head" paternalism that marked so many relationships between doctors and their female patients for decades.

That feeling is compounded by the fact that caveats for African-American women about the new screening recommendations haven't made the headlines of many stories on this issue. I'm quite proud that Tell Me More and other NPR programs have been clear about the continued benefits of more aggressive screening for black women. But, unfortunately, not everyone is going to have — or hear — that in-depth information.

So what side of this story do you live on? Has someone close to you been saved by the screening procedures that have now been called into question?

Or, are you relieved that these new guidelines support your decision to wait to get a mammogram?

I hope that you'll share your stories with Tell Me More, and that you'll read along as your fellow listeners share theirs.