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Breast Cancer Survivor Discusses Guidelines

November 18, 2009, 6:05 PM by Kelli Grant

Breast Cancer Survivor Discusses Guidelines
For a woman, getting a mammogram can be stressful and now new guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are making the checkup an even harder appointment to schedule.

The new government task force recommendations say that most women don't need mammograms in their 40s, rather in their 50s and not as frequent. They're guidelines that are getting mixed reviews and causing women diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age to speak out.

In May of last year, Kim VanderPoel turned 40. And it was that exact month she had her very first mammogram.

"I had a little abnormality then and had to have a biopsy on the right side but that came back fine," VanderPoel said.

A follow up six months later in October also showed no sign of cancer. But just before Thanksgiving, she found a lump.

"Actually had just taken my shirt off, was hopping in the shower and I was like, 'Oh, there's a lump.' And I called my doctor and I said 'I don't need to do anything do ?' And she said, 'Oh yeah, we need to get it checked out.' Then we moved from there," VanderPoel said.

VanderPoel was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

"Typically us younger women that get breast cancer of this type, it does grow fast and it's not uncommon to have a normal mammogram and six months later, something shows up. That's why it's important to do self breast exams to know what your differences are," VanderPoel said.

But a government task force now says not only do women in their 40s not need a mammogram, self breast exams are no good either and women shouldn't be taught to do them.

"It makes me just very sad. Kinda feels like we're taking a step backwards with women's health care," VanderPoel said.

Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends that annual mammograms start at age 40 for the general population. VanderPoel says if she would have followed the new recommendations, she may not be here today.

"If I wouldn't have found my breast cancer when I did, that in two years my children probably wouldn't have a mother," VanderPoel said.

But the government panel of doctors and scientists found that getting screened so early and so often is harmful and causes unneeded biopsies. VanderPoel says the tests and weeks of treatment she went through was worth it because it saved her life.

"I understand some of the recommendations as far as mammograms cause anxiety or repeat tests. No amount of anxiety can take away the fear of recurrence of breast cancer and when you find it small, you can treat it," VanderPoel said.

VanderPoel had a double mastectomy, went through chemo and radiation. She is currently cancer free but says she has a 33 percent chance of recurrence. 

It's worth noting these new recommendations are just that; they are expected to be revised and debated.

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