In Tuesday’s Lady News, we told you that former Frisky contributor Susannah Breslin has been diagnosed with breast cancer and linked to her Forbes Woman blog about the experience of getting her first mammogram and finding out the results. Susannah has received a lot of get well messages from friends and strangers alike as a result of being so open about her diagnosis; but she has also likely inspired other women to get mammograms, including women who are younger than 50, the recommended age for women to begin routine mammograms.
One woman we know was inspired by Susannah’s diagnosis is her friend Xeni Jardin, editor at Boing Boing. Yesterday, Xeni tweeted throughout her mammogram appointment, giving readers a live, firsthand account of what to expect. As she waited for her results, Jardin expressed some fear of what she might find out. Sadly and shockingly, Xeni confirmed via Twitter last night that like Susannah, she too has breast cancer.
Even if you don’t know Susannah and Xeni personally — I, for the record, know Susannah and am merely a fan of Xeni’s writing — this story illustrates just how prevalent breast cancer is and should also serve as further evidence of just how absolutely dangerous the current U.S. Preventative Services Task Force guidelines for breast cancer screenings are. Those guidelines say that women shouldn’t routinely get screened until they hit 50 (as opposed to their 40s), and those between 50 and 74 should only have mammograms every two years. While the new guidelines do say that women younger than 50 should get screened if there’s a family history of breast cancer, it’s important to note that a new study from the Radiological Society of North America found that among a group of more than 1,000 breast cancer patients in their 40s, 64 percent had no family history. Simply put, 50 is just not early enough for the average woman to start getting regular breast cancer screenings. What’s the harm in getting checked earlier? Other than saving insurance companies money, that is.
While USPSTF is not recommending women get screening earlier than age 50, stories from real women that have inspired others to ignore them. I hope Susannah gets some comfort and strength in knowing that in sharing her story, she inspired Jardin to get checked and that as a result, her breast cancer was also caught early. The two them have a decisively better shot at beating their cancers because they were caught early. And so will the other women who will now get screened (and possibly diagnosed) because of what they have written. As Susannah said to me when I emailed her to tell her I was thinking of her, “When you turn 40, I will be expecting a mammogram report from you!” Consider it done.