Teresa Heinz, wife of Senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry, has revealed that she has breast cancer. She did so in a guest op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Notably, Heinz uses her first-hand experience to urge women against following last month's recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which said women should scale down the frequency of mammogram testing. That recommendation was met with fierce debate as many pundits feared the scientists were wrong. After all, how could less cancer screening be a good thing? But others defended it, noting that overscreening can produce false positives--no small risk when treatments such as chemotherapy are applied.
The debate became so heated that many accused the scientists of sexism. Ultimately, many concluded that in such matters politics simply trumps science. So it is no small thing that Heinz is taking a stand, if belatedly, against the recommendations. She insists that screening is well worth the cost and that it can save lives -- including her own.
The members of the task force were predisposed to choose numbers over people and their recommendations forgot that women do not need more excuses not to get a mammogram at regular intervals, as determined by their doctors. Our busy lives are full of those. What we need are more reasons to keep those appointments, more support of the value of prevention and refinement of diagnostic procedures, and more choices.
I am not a doctor or medical expert, but it is neither the doctors nor the experts to whom I wish to speak here. It is, rather, to all the women who have been left confused by this latest report, and to all those who love them.
Like many of you, I have seen friends die because their cancers were detected too late. And like many of you, I suspect, I have just been given my own personal tutorial in the value of early detection.
My message is simple: That mammogram appointment? Keep it. And make your appointment for next year while you're at it.