Mammogram parties? Yup, it’s a thing

Lia Grainger
Shine On

Picture it: just you, your closest girlfriends, some wine, some cheese, and mammograms all round.

Now who's ready to party?

That's right, the mammogram party, or "mamm" party, is a concept that is gaining some currency in the United States, reports ABC News. Designed to quell some of the fear and dread that can come with getting the breast cancer screening test, "mamm" parties add fun distractions like refreshments, spa treatments, and even chocolate fondue to make the experience more enjoyable.

"I think it's a reasonable idea to turn it into a pleasant experience," says Ian Gardiner, an associate professor of radiology at the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine and an expert in breast mammography.

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Gardiner says he has heard of women holding similar events in Canada, getting mammograms together and following it up with a group lunch or outing.

"For some women, having a mammogram is not the highlight of their day," says Gardiner. "If there is a reward attached to it, I think that's a good thing."

But a recent story from ABC News on these parties found that some experts are less enthusiastic about the idea.

Dr. Julie Silver, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey, tells ABC that while these parties might help with compliance, the test itself is not absolutely necessary for every woman, depending on their age.

There is some disagreement over when testing should begin. While many physicians and cancer prevention organizations recommend that screening begin at 40, there is some evidence that screening between the ages of 40 and 50 may result in false positives and unnecessary procedures.

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According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, for every thousand women who get annual mammograms from age 40 to 49, one death from breast cancer will be prevented.

"In B.C., we recommend women begin at 40 and continue to 79," says Karen Gelmon, a medical oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency.

Gelmon says that attending a provincial screening program may make the most sense because they are free and open to women with a phone call.

"The evidence for women from ages 40 to 50 is less strong than for women over 50, but our program is open to younger women."

She also says that while the idea of a party may make sense if it is raising awareness, it would have to take place at a screening centre to take advantage of the machines, central expertise and quality control.

"I have not heard of these in Canada and hopefully Canadian women have better reasons to have parties," says Gelmon.

Yet Gardiner, an advocate for annual screening beginning at age 40, does not see a downside to adding a little fun to the testing procedure.

"Women who get annual screening beginning at age 40 have an unequivocal survival advantage over women who don't," he says. "It's a smart thing to do."