November 18, 2015
Breast cancer survivor and political advocate Henda Salmeron fought for the Dense Breast Tissue Law in Texas, also called Henda’s Law, so women would be better informed, thus better able to advocate for their unique needs regarding breast imaging. The law passed in 2011. But Salmeron didn’t stop there.
She continues to put her voice to good use, educating women at every opportunity about the importance of advocacy regarding breast health. Today, she’s speaking out against the new American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines, released in late October. These guidelines have changed the recommended age that women should start getting mammograms from 40 to 45. Further, ACS recommends that women over 55 get a mammogram every other year. And finally, they suggest there is minimal benefit to self-breast exams or manual breast exams by physicians.
Solis Mammography, the nation’s largest independent provider of breast imaging services for women, sat down with Salmeron to talk about the new guidelines.
Q: What is your opinion of the new guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS)?
Henda: The ACS has really muddied the waters. Their original guidelines, while not perfect, were ingrained in our heads. Now, it’s just confusing. We can no longer depend on guidelines because there are so many, with too many conflicting opinions, their own set of statistics, and so – which one do you believe? It’s going to come to where healthcare is about the haves and have nots. If you have information and you are outspoken, good for you! You are one of the lucky ones.
Q: What advice do you have for women who are confused?
Henda: Even though it involves some work, women have to become their own advocates. Research. Ask questions. Women deserve knowledge. It is so important that women are actively involved in their own healthcare, understanding their own bodies and what’s in their best interest. Consider the statistics – fine, but look at yourself, your lifestyle, your risk factors and your family history, and make informed decisions. The internet has given us all access to so much information. You just have to take the time to find what’s right for you.
We know the No. 1 reason women don’t get screened is fear. We need to make cancer the fear thing and make getting screened the great thing!
Q: You are a survivor. How would these guidelines have affected you?
Henda: They would have been a disaster. I was diagnosed at 42, so had I waited until I was 45, it would have been too late. I found the lump myself with a self-exam, but because I have dense breast tissue, when I went in for a mammogram it didn’t show up. They were going to send me home. But I refused to leave the office without further testing, which they finally did, which led to my diagnosis. But if I’d followed the ACS’ guidelines, I would not have done a self-exam and I would have had no screening in my early 40s. Simply put, my story might have ended very differently. And I must add that I am very pro-mammogram. It’s all about early detection, and mammograms are the best way to do that.
Q: The new guidelines talk about “reasonable trade-off. ” What message is that sending women?
Henda: I guess my life would have counted within that “reasonable trade-off.” I wouldn’t have found my lump, and we wouldn’t have done a mammogram or further testing. Doctors practice medicine based on statistics. I am not a statistic. I refuse to be considered a statistic. I am a person and a mother, and my life is worth the world to me.
Q: The other thing the guidelines say they address is the fear and “intense anxiety” women experience with callbacks or false positives.
Henda: I find that extraordinarily offensive. Women are not frail little flowers without a brain. “Don’t worry your pretty little heads,” they tell us. It’s insulting that they think we are not smart enough or brave enough to handle the possibility of a “false positive.” It’s part of screening, which is an imperfect science. But after what I’ve gone through, I can tell you I will never object to any type of screening again in my life.
The ACS is telling women not to do self-exams, not to get screenings until you’re 45. And some of the women they’re talking to will be very negatively affected. Women in their early 40’s have young children, are often in the prime of their careers, and simply put – they have a lot of life ahead of them. And if you want to assess the financial impact, these women are also huge economic contributors.
The ACS has seriously damaged its credibility in my eyes. I think the release of these new guidelines was incredibly irresponsible. I have a voice. I have a very loud voice that I’m not afraid to use. But what about women that don’t have a voice. What are we telling them? They’re not important enough? You have a 50/50 chance until you’re 45? Those women that don’t have voices will follow the new guidelines because of a misguided faith in the integrity of the ACS.
Q: What do you think is missing most from the guidelines?
Henda: Any reference to today’s technology. These guidelines move us backward, not forward. Technology has advanced with 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) which is far more sensitive and far more accurate, and can catch any anomalies earlier. 3D mammography actually reduces unnecessary callbacks by up to 40 percent! Here we are now in 2015, where medical science has made leaps and bounds of progress, and then the ACS reverts back to guidelines from the Dark Ages, citing as evidence outdated studies and misleading statistics.
Visit our YouTube channel to hear more about Henda’s thoughts on the new ACS guidelines.