Cancer survivor weighs in on new regulations

Reported by Claire Simms - bio|email
Posted by Lauren Thomson - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A local cancer survivor and a doctor are talking about new government recommendations released on mammogram testing.

The United States Preventative Services Task Force is now suggesting that women who are not considered at-risk for breast cancer begin their annual mammograms at the age of 50, instead of 40 as outlined in previous years.

Some medical professionals say women in their 40's don't benefit from mammograms.

But cancer survivors like Sherry Sacco of Wilmington say catching the disease in just one 40-year-old patient is enough to warrant the yearly tests.

She treasures every meal at home with her husband, and always stays up to date on health news.

When Sacco heard about the new federal guidelines, she was shocked. She believes waiting ten years before getting yearly mammograms could be a death sentence for some women.

"Women are not going to stand for this, for just being set aside for something that is as important as breast cancer awareness," Sacco said.

Sacco says a mammogram saved her life, and she can't understand why the government would ask women to wait for the tests.

But research shows mammograms are not very effective in 40- to 50-year-old women, because they can often get false positives that doctors say lead to more tests and patient anxiety.

Dr. Cyrus Kotwall is the head of the Zimmer Cancer Center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. He supports the new testing guidelines, but believes women should still talk with their doctors.

"Now we'll be able to say to a woman, 'what are the risks that you have with a mammogram? You may incur some more tests that you might have to have' versus the benefits," said Dr. Kotwall.  "So, it will incur a bit more dialogue, hopefully to educate the public more and educate that particular woman."

But Sacco fears telling women they don't need breast exams is a recipe for disaster

"I know the fight will go on," she said from her home.  "I know that mothers and fathers will teach their daughters that you have to take responsibility for your own health."

Dr. Kotwall says other national organizations like the American Cancer Society will look at the Task Force's findings before the entire medical community makes widespread changes to mammogram testing. 

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