Marianne Matthews

The setting couldn’t have been prettier. It was several years ago, and I was seated in a lovely French bistro in Manhattan sipping the requisite sauvignon blanc of the moment with two of my oldest, closest friends. One got a bit choked up, handed the other a gift, and said simply, “I’m really sorry. ? Good luck.”

It was a genuine iron horseshoe. A symbol of “good luck.” The recipient had recently been diagnosed (actually, misdiagnosed, at first) with uterine cancer, and was scheduled for surgery. She’d already received a plethora of gifts, but this was sure to be the most memorable because it was a gift with a message. It said: “Let’s hope for the best; but you better have some luck on your side, girl.”

In the end, she did. But at the time, the situation was puzzling. We three were sophisticated ladies. Well-educated and mindful of our health. How could this have happened? For starters, bad luck. She had no family history of the disease. In addition, a doctor had made a mistake. And the fact is, the mistake was made because my friend was viewed as a statistic—not as a person. He simply decided her symptoms could not be due to uterine cancer because she was “too young,” and he had put off testing for several months.

It’s October many years later, and my friend is as healthy as a horse. But with Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, many women will be finding out they are not. Corporations are doing their part: Avon, Fiji Water, and Lee Jeans—to name a few—are all raising awareness and money for breast cancer research and promoting the importance of yearly mammograms. Nonprofits are doing their part as well.

Women’s imaging in general remains a complex labyrinth. What is the medical imaging community doing to reach out to women of all demographics? Are we providing access and education? Are we viewing women as individuals or as statistics?

It turns out women are not as sophisticated as I thought them to be. According to Dr Nancy Snyderman’s report on NBC Nightly News (September 10, 2007), when it comes to health matters in general, recent studies show that women are less likely than men to ask for a second opinion. Moreover, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, after mammography was shown to be an effective breast cancer-screening tool in the late 1980s, use of screening mammography in the United States rapidly increased, and by 2000, 70% of women reported having a recent mammogram. Since 2003, however, rates have declined among women aged 50 and older—the cause and the consequences for this are not yet known.

OK, we’re all adults, and that should be that. But, when it comes to life-and-death issues, “shoulds” get us nowhere. Let’s face it; it’s not just women, but the imaging community that needs to take the lead here.

I was happy to see that one woman I admire is taking action. Hillary Rodham Clinton recently signed on as a cosponsor to the Access to Medicare Imaging Act of 2007—a moratorium on the drastic cuts to medical imaging contained in the DRA. And Hillary just released her new health care plan that she says will ensure access to all and allows insured Americans “to keep the doctors you know and trust.”

When it comes to health care specifically, I somehow favor the idea of a smart, sophisticated woman shaping the solution. Moreover, in Hillary’s case, the very fact that she fell short the first time around makes me hopeful she’s learned from experience and will get it right in round two. Hillary also said she would put new regulations on the insurance industry, “eliminating discrimination” against those with health problems (like my friend with a pre-existing condition, perhaps?). Doing so, Hillary acknowledged, will not make her the industry’s “woman of the year.” But it could leave her sitting pretty with Americans and the imaging community.

Marianne Matthews, editor