Sandra Lee’s breast cancer diagnosis highlights the need for early mammograms
I applaud Sandra Lee’s courage in revealing her breast cancer diagnosis and agree with her decision to share her story and state very clearly that women should not necessarily wait until age 50 for their first mammogram. At 48, Lee is a young, fit, healthy individual by all accounts, who as a celebrity chef has, for years, educated the American public on how to save time and money cooking for your family. But as we very well know, cancer can afflict anyone.
Lee revealed that she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a common noninvasive cancer contained in the milk ducts that can become invasive overtime without treatment. To confirm her diagnosis, Lee underwent a biopsy after her mammogram and had testing done for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which, she said, came back negative. She has elected to undergo a double mastectomy to avoid radiation treatment.
While U.S. mammogram guidelines say that breast cancer screening should begin at age 50 for most women, I agree with Lee. We still do not have a foolproof method of screening for breast cancer. While we can consider risk factors such as family history, genetics, ethnic background and lifestyle, for the vast majority of women who develop breast cancer, these lists are simply not enough.
It is important that we use the tools we have more effectively as we continue to research for a cure. Mammograms should be conducted using the latest technology, and the professionals charged with reading them should be incredibly well-trained in making the proper diagnosis. These adjustments will also help to minimize the criticism from the medical societies that say women are over-diagnosed and sometimes undergo unnecessary, invasive biopsies that can lead to more detrimental effects.
I’m am also strongly for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology being used to screen for breast cancer. A recent paper published in the journal Radiology suggests MRI technology not only helps in detecting early cancers in high-risk patients, but also helps predict which patients may develop breast cancer. Doctors that are looking at the MRI images are now paying attention to background breast tissue that appears white, and can determine through those images which women are more likely to develop breast cancer over the next few years. These patients can then be monitored more closely, or doctors can recommend they undergo prophylactic surgery.
At the end of the day, breast cancer continues to afflict too many women in our society, and the screening remains somewhat limited. We have to make a better effort in utilizing the multiple tools available to us to not only diagnose early cancers, but also to predict with a certain degree of statistical accuracy which women are likely to develop breast cancer, and put them on a proper course of treatment or monitoring.
It is not fair to base breast cancer screening solely on the age of the patient, and I believe that waiting until age 50 is too long to schedule your first mammogram. I hope that Lee’s story will initiate a new debate, and offer a reason for changing these regulations, and that insurance companies are willing to step up and play ball. We keep limiting access to the tests that patients should be covered for, and the cost of an early mammogram is invaluable when it saves a life, but worthless when it saves a dollar for an insurance company.