Do young women need breast cancer checks?
Kumiko Nakajima and Aiko Komai / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
At what age should women start having breast cancer checks?
A group of experts and breast cancer patients has written to TBS in connection with this question and called for a rethink of a TBS-sponsored breast cancer screening drive that focuses on women in their 20s and 30s.
The group says the campaign targeting women younger than 40 has little scientific basis, as the risk of dying from breast cancer is far lower for women in their 30s or younger than those in their 40s and older.
The broadcaster launched the checkup campaign in 2008 after the overwhelming response to its documentary, "A bride with a month to live." The 2007 program detailed the life of a woman who died from breast cancer at the age of 24.
The documentary generated a huge response and was followed by books delving into the bride's story, a tale that was even made into a movie.
Funded by revenue brought in by the documentary, the TBS campaign enables women in their 20s and 30s to receive mammograms, ultrasonic scans and other checks for just 1,000 yen. About 7,300 women have taken the checkups across the country, according to TBS.
The written request by the group of medical experts and breast cancer patients, however, said the program exclusively for women in this age bracket is "devoid of scientific basis."
The group also submitted a list of questions, asking, for example, about the possible consequences if TBS stopped the checkup campaign.
Given that most women who develop breast cancer are in their 40s or older, the group said the TBS drive misses the mark and is misleading. It also said it is questionable for a broadcaster to sponsor such a campaign despite its responsibility to air accurate information.
Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry guidelines recommend women aged 40 and older undergo regular breast cancer checkups, and the ministry notes the incidence of breast cancer is markedly higher among women in their 40s and 50s.
Tokiko Endo at the National Hospital Organization's Nagoya Medical Center commends the campaign's intention, but has doubts about its intended audience.
"It's important to make young women aware of the risk of breast cancer, but it's definitely a mistake to prod all young women to have breast cancer examinations," Endo said.
This is because the stress and physical discomfort that accompany a completely unnecessary check likely would outstrip any gains a young woman might gain from it.
"For young women, the disadvantages undoubtedly outweigh the advantages of receiving breast cancer checkups," Endo said.
In the United States, the argument rumbles on over whether women in their 40s should be among those the government recommends receive breast cancer checkups.
In November, a U.S. government panel proposed that women covered by government-subsidized mammographies be 50 and older. The panel said checkups for women younger than this could result in them having needless examinations and treatment.
Cancer prevention organizations in the United States have rebuked the panel for the proposal, insisting that women in their 40s stand to gain more than they would lose by having the checkups.
In response to questions submitted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, TBS said it lets women in their 20s and 30s have the checkups at their own risk "after explaining the details of the examinations."
"Although breast cancer checkups are not without risks, the campaign is worthwhile because it has given young women the opportunity to have cancer checks," a TBS representative said.
Mayumi Terada, one of the group members asking TBS to reconsider the campaign, knows how terrifying breast cancer can be; she has had the disease herself. She wants TBS to do more to help cancer patients.
"The documentary was extremely moving, and many young women have understandably been touched by her fate," said Terada, 49. "But the primary role of a TV broadcaster is to provide accurate information that hasn't been clouded by emotion.
"TBS should help the development of more effective screening and breast cancer treatment, and provide breast cancer patients with more support," she added.
(Jun. 16, 2010)
This article was sent to us by Ms.Mayumi Terada on June 25, 2010 Ann Fonfa, founder of the Annie Appleseed Project will meet with her during Ann's trip to Japan from July 14-26.
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