Twenty-four-year-old Claudia Gilmore didn't just want to survive breast cancer, she wanted to pre-vive a cancer diagnosis. Because her grandmother and father carried the breast cancer gene mutation, she knew her risk was high so she had a prophylactic mastectomy.
"I just can't believe it...I did it. I reduced my risk by 90% ...it was such a surreal moment," said Gilmore.
On the other hand, Debbie Fornwalt had no family history and thought her personal risk was average, so she had annual mammograms. She found a cancerous lump through a Breast Self Exam
"They say look for a marble or a lump," stated Fornwalt. "Mine actually felt like a piece of clothesline rope...it was about this long and about this wide."
Doing a BSE helped Debbie find her cancer at an early stage.
But in 2011, women continue to get mixed messages, seemingly on a daily basis, about when and how often to have screening mammograms and if breast self exams were even worthwhile.
Dutch researches concluded that regular mammograms can cut a woman's risk of dying in half. But another study from Canada says Asymptomatic women should avoid routine screening until after age 50 and then only every 2-3 years. That same study said women shouldn't bother with breast self exams or routine clinical exams. And for women at average risk aged 50-69, and women aged 70-74, the timetable for routine screening with mammography can be every two to three years.
Some critics say the guidelines could costs women their lives.
Cancer specialist Dr. Sara Sukumar of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins finds fault with the directive on self breast exams.
Dr. Sukumar told us, "I do believe that breast self exams should be a part of a woman's routine because she knows her body best."
But Dr. Sukumar does agree with the reasoning behind the mammography recommendations under very specific conditions.
"For those women who are at high risk, family history of breast cancer, they've discovered BRCA 1 and 2 in the family, the guidelines need to be quite different. But for the public at large, 2-3 years should be quite sufficient to discover new breast cancers," stated Dr. Sukumar.
Before making any decision on how or when to screen, every woman should resolve in 2012 to learn her own individual risk for breast cancer. Make that appointment now to have a serious discussion with your primary care doctor or gynecologist.