I went for my first mammogram three weeks ago.
A letter should arrive any day with my results.
Am I apprehensive? A little, but less so than I felt on the day of my appointment.
It felt like an important thing to be doing. A hugely sensible, precautionary step.
I found myself thinking if only other bodily parts at risk of developing cancer were routinely scanned. Though how you’d get a man to stand there patiently while his nether regions are squashed into a clamp by anyone other than a Miss Whiplash is another matter entirely.
Actually, I wanted to be tested. I lost a friend in January whose breast cancer had gone undetected; she died of secondaries in her spine. If the cells which had started cancer’s unyielding and merciless march through her body had been pinpointed early she would probably be here now, watching her daughters of 16 and 10 grow up.
Her death made me acutely aware of my own mortality.
It made me look differently at my breasts. Never a moment’s trouble in all their 51 years, I suddenly felt less sure of them. What of my future did they hold?
When that letter came from Rotherham’s Breast Screening Centre, it was an opportunity to see beneath.
This week, though, there is a real possibility millions of women who receive that 50-plus birthday invitation will not see it the way I did. Some may even refuse their appointment. A new report has revealed what is being bandied around as a shock statistic; that some 4,000 a year women are undergoing unnecessary mastectomies, chemo and radiotherapy as a result of their mammograms.
For every one woman whose life is saved by breast screening and subsequent treatment, there are three more who are ‘over-diagnosed.’
If you’re shocked by that, listen up; over-diagnosed does NOT mean misdiagnosed. All those 4,000 women do have breast cancer. But it may be a type that, if left alone, won’t shorten their lives, particularly if they’re elderly.
But what’s been happening, according to the report, is women haven’t been given enough information to make a judgement before having treatment. Some have gone through operations they now see as needless mutilation.
I can sympathise, really I can. But the NHS Screening Programme says that there’s no way of really knowing which cancers will become harmful and which won’t.
Who could live with the risk of saying no to treatment?
More and more women, including singer Michelle Heaton, decide to have double mastectomies purely because they have been identified as carriers of the hereditary breast cancer gene.
We have a right to information and choice and now, thanks to this report, that is what we will get.
But we have to keep our faith with this test.
It works - every year, 1,300 women’s lives are saved because their mammogram picked up early signs of cancer.
In a decade that’s 13,000 women - and maybe you, maybe me.