The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Breast Cancer

October 1, 2012

Excuses for skipping tests don’t stand up

JOHNSTOWN — “I’m too busy.”

“I’m afraid they will find something.”

“It will hurt.”

None of the excuses women give themselves to avoid an annual mammogram screening is worth the risk of letting cancer grow, local experts say.

“We are seeing too many ladies who skip a year and then they have something,” Dr. Patti Stefanick of Johnstown said. “I’m not saying it would have shown up, but what if it did? We could have prevented it spreading or growing.”

Some trepidation is natural, clinical psychologist Theresa Kovacs said.

“The fear of the unknown is always there,” Kovacs said. “But we know the earlier we have diagnosis, the prognosis will be dramatically improved.”

Fear is not the only thing that keep women from having an annual mammogram, Kovacs said. Women tend to be the caregivers for others, but neglect their own health.

“Women often don’t take care of themselves as much as we would like them to,” she said. “This needs to be a routine check that they can have as part of their overall health care.”

 Controversy over the timing of screening mammograms may reinforce some women’s decision to skip the test. Several organizations cite studies to recommend screening mammograms only every two years, starting at age 50.

But all local experts contacted by The Tribune-Democrat continue to follow American Cancer Society guidelines for annual screenings, beginning at age 40.

“It’s always cost that is the bottom line when they are talking about that,” Joyce Murtha said at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber. “Annual mammograms save lives. That’s what’s important.”

The value of mammograms is indisputable, breast surgeon Dr. Gerard Garguilo said, noting that two-thirds of all breast cancers are discovered through mammography.

“Their argument is the expense and the potential for false positives,” Garguilo said. “But everybody comes back to the same recommendation.”

Women want something quicker and more convenient, breast surgeon Dr. Diane Craig said at the Windber breast center.

“Until they come out with something that says ‘this takes the place of the mammogram,’ we are going to keep recommending them,” Craig said.

Family practice specialist Dr. Brian Lieb starts discussing mammograms with women in their 30s as part of an overall wellness care plan. His counseling also includes the importance of pap tests for cervical cancer, smoking cessation and information about of heart disease risk factors.

New recommendations that women only need pap tests every three years may be hurting the mammography screenings, as well, since it breaks up the annual routine, Lieb said.

He doesn’t always have an opportunity to counsel women.

“You may only see her when she brings her kids in,” Lieb said. “There are some barriers that come up and they are forgetting. I don’t know if they are ignoring their screenings. It’s a wrestling match.”

Lieb has an illustration to drive home the importance of screenings.

“I tell them: You won’t think twice about insuring your home or your car,” he said. “This is getting insurance on the most valuable thing you have: Your body; your life.”


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