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12.23.09

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Personal is political

By Dani Burlison


The U.S. government hasn't talked this much about boobs since the mass bra burnings of the 1960s. After recommending that women under 50 need not bother with routine mammograms, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has issued a public apology on the miscommunication around the announcement, which also discourages medical professionals from teaching women how to perform self-exams that might detect abnormalities in breast tissue.

Many women who have battled against or even lost a loved one to breast cancer are confused and outraged by the recommendations, which seem to imply that early breast cancer detection is not crucial to effective treatment. Others see the current recommendations, which were also made by the USPSTF back in 2000, as an important topic to discuss. "The debate around mammography is a good debate and we should be having it," said Janice Barlow, executive director at Marin County's Zero Breast Cancer, an organization which focuses on researching the causes and risk factors associated with the disease. "There are pros and cons to mammography, particularly the false sense of satisfaction when a woman is told she does not have cancer and later discover that she does."

A crucial component missing from the USPSTF recommendations is the discussion on preventative measures and alternative detection methods. One method is thermography, which has been practiced throughout Europe as an alternative or precursor to mammography. A radiation-free scanning of the body can detect any heat changes or abnormal activity in breast tissue at least 15 years before traditional mammography can detect cancer.

According to Renee Russo of the Thermography Center of Sonoma County, there are simple, harmless ways that women can keep breast tissue healthy and help women feel good about breast health. "Women should be judicious about why and how many mammograms they get and should be aware that mammograms miss 42 percent of cancer," she says. "Instead of monthly self-exams that cause anxiety by teaching women to look for something that's wrong, women can practice a daily breast massage that actually helps clear blockages and keeps breast tissue healthy."

In addition to focusing on breast massage, nutrition and general self-care, Russo's Thermography Center also suggests tossing out bras with underwires, which decrease circulation and constrict lymphatic flow and even going braless when possible. Maybe those women in the 1960s were on to something more than they realized. Burn your bra, save your boobs.


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