Mammograms at 50: A Female Doctor Speaks Out

By Lissa Rankin, MD

So what do I think?

Well, I’m admittedly biased. Half a dozen of my closest friends and many of the women I’ve worked with for The Woman Inside Project were diagnosed with breast cancer in their early forties, some of them by routine mammography alone. Had they not been screened, would they have survived their cancers? No way to know. How much is one life worth? Also, since Dad was a radiologist, I grew up around stories of breast cancer near misses.  I know that’s not scientific reasoning, but these new recommendations bring up a lot of feelings for me.

My biggest concern about the task force recommendations is that insurance companies may use this as an excuse to deny coverage for women in their forties who wish to get mammograms. If they have to pay out of pocket, fewer women will get screened, and we might wind back the clock to the days when women only got diagnosed with breast cancer after a lump was detected. Why would we want to go backwards? Is this all part of some government plan to cut back spending on the cusp of health care reform? Are our best interests really at heart? I’m not sure. What do I know?

Breast Thermography

Every woman ultimately has to make this decision for herself, assessing her own risk tolerance. At my office, we offer breast thermography as an adjunct or alternative to mammography in young women. If mammograms give you the heebie-jeebies and you’ve opted to skip them, check out breast thermography. Thermography, a non-invasive procedure using digital infrared imaging to assess heat in the breasts, may reflect an increase in blood vessels that are commonly seen with evolving cancer. If there’s heat on the body’s surface, this can indicate cellular damage, increased cellular activity, and inflammation- which may be cancer precursors. Breast thermography may be useful for screening young women, and it may even detect changes in the breast before breast cancer arises.

Breast thermography has some great advantages over mammography. Unlike mammography, which does nothing to prevent breast cancer- only death- thermography can actually assess the conditions in your body that may lead to breast cancer. And these changes can be treated- and often reversed- through dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, supplements, and bioidentical progesterone cream applied to the breasts.

Keep in mind that studies to support thermography as a replacement for mammography are limited. But as an adjunct or alternative for those who wish to avoid radiation or fall into that younger age group for whom mammography works less well, it has great promise.

Will I get a mammogram?

You betcha. I just turned forty, so I’ll soon be making the phone call to get my hooters mashed between the plates. I’ve got a three year old, a husband, and a beautiful mission to serve. I’ve got a lot to live for, and I’m not going to let some new recommendations get between me and a long life. But I may not do it every year. I may get thermograms in between (and in addition to mammograms), just to reduce my radiation exposure and assess any breast health issues I might be able to reverse. Ultimately, you’ve got to go with your gut. What feels right to you? When there’s controversy among various organizations, it usually means there’s no one right way. Listen to your body. Ask for guidance from the Universe.  Let your boobs tell you what to do…

Freaked out about breast cancer? Don’t be. Fear won’t help. Instead, click here.  these tips may (regardless of what the task force says).


This article is reprinted in part from

lissarankinLissa Rankin, MD., is an OB/GYN physician with ten years of experience working one-on-one with women, the leader of a series of women’s workshops (including Owning Sexuality), a professional artist casting women with breast cancer, and founder of the popular women’s empowerment website Owning Pink: A Gutsy Guide To Getting Your Mojo Back, a website and series of workshops committed to empowering women to reclaim their health, their girlytude, and their mojo. She practices integrative gynocology at Clear Center of Health in Mill Valley, California.

She is also the author of two forthcoming books: Encaustic: A Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax (Summer 2010 by Random House) and What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin’s Press, Fall 2010).

This article is excerpted from Dr. Rankin’s website,

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SMW columnist Lissa Rankin, MD (author of the forthcoming What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin’s Press, 2010)