Trust Your Dog, Not Your Mammogram

This Sunday’s newspaper included the usual issue of Parade magazine.  Those of you familiar with Parade know that it includes articles about celebrities, topics of general interest, a few comics, and some mental puzzles, with lots of ads about TV shows, cosmetics, weight loss systems, and trendy gadgets.  I usually skim through it quickly before I read the newspaper, but this week’s issue had me poring slowly over the cover articles, all of which deal with cancer (www.parade.com).

The cover’s photo is of Lance Armstrong, decked out in biking gear, holding his year-old son.  Most of us know that, besides winning the Tour de France a record-breaking 7 times, Lance Armstrong is also a cancer survivor.  He was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 24 and has, since then, been instrumental in putting the spotlight on research for cancer.

The first article details the experience of two other cancer survivors who also received their diagnosis at a young age — a man with leukemia at age 25, a woman with bladder cancer at age 41 — and describes some of the medical problems that can linger after treatment for cancer: pain, fatigue, and cognitive impairment, among others. According to this article, I’m a NED — someone with No Evidence of Disease.  Thankfully, I don’t have the problems the article talks about either.

The second article details the valuable work of hospice caregivers, while the third article tells you how to beat colon cancer through early screening. Later in the issue, a chart lists the top 10 cancers along with the amount of funding the government supplied for each in 2009:

Lung and bronchus:                   $246.9 million
Colon and rectum:                      $264.2 million
Breast:                                              $599.5 million
Pancreas:                                           $89.7 million
Prostate:                                          $293.9 million
Leukemia:                                       $220.6 million
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:     $130.9 million
Liver:                                                  $70.3 million
Ovary:                                               $110.1 million
Esophagus:                                        $28.8 million

These numbers come from the National Cancer Institute.  As you can see, they don’t reflect the impact of the various types of cancer. They also do not include funding from the American Cancer Society, which also spends more on research for breast cancer than any other type.

That’s good for those of us who’ve had breast cancer.  Not so good for people with other types. (And we can only speculate about why researchers are significantly more interested in breast cancer.  Is it because there‘s more money to be had?  Or are breasts more interesting than, say, lungs.)

But it was the last article in the series that really made me sit up.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the ability some dogs have to predict earthquakes and the onset of seizures in people with epilepsy.  Now, it seems they might also have the ability to detect cancer.  In a study done in 2006, five dogs “were able to correctly spot breast cancer 88% of the time and lung cancer with 99% accuracy — rates that compare favorably to chest X-rays, CT scans, and mammography”  (“Sniffing Out Disease” by Susan McCarthy, www.parade.com/health/2010/06/20-dogs-sniff-out-disease.html).

Well, shoot. Why did I spend all that time and money on mammograms that did me no good? I could have just cozied up to my dog.

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