BOSTON - Teresa Heinz says she is being treated for breast cancer discovered through mammography and argues that younger women should continue to have the tests despite a federal panel's recent recommendation to reduce their frequency.
Heinz, 71, a philanthropist and the wife of Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, said the cost of mammography was far lower than the physical and personal tolls that women ages 40 to 60 face if their cancer goes undetected early and they later need aggressive chemotherapy treatment.
"Chemotherapy is serious. It also costs a lot of money. It's very painful," she said in an interview this week. "And it's very destructive of people's - most people's - lives for a while, anyway. So why put people through that instead of just having a test that's done, and it's done?"
She recalled nurses in a hospital where she was undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging procedure, or MRI, being "so livid" when they heard the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend last month that women start receiving mammograms at 50, rather than the long-standing practice of 40.
"They said, 'We've taken all these years to teach women to do preventive mammograms, and now look at this,' " Heinz said.
President Obama's administration later backed off the recommendation amid criticism from many medical and women's groups. It said the government's policies "remain unchanged."
Heinz - the widow of Sen. John Heinz (R., Pa.), heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune - said she found out in late September that she had cancer in her left breast after having her annual mammogram.
In early October, she underwent lumpectomies on both breasts at a Washington hospital after doctors also found what they thought was a benign growth on her right breast. That diagnosis was initially confirmed in postoperative pathology, but two other doctors later found it to be malignant. In November, Heinz underwent another pair of lumpectomies at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Doctors also inserted titanium clips in the tissue of both breasts. Next month, Heinz will have five days of targeted radiation aimed at improving her odds of a successful treatment to 95 percent.
Heinz said she was undecided about follow-up medicinal treatments that could raise her survival odds to 99 percent, given her age and the potential side effects.
Her surgeon at Massachusetts General was the one she recommended to Elizabeth Edwards, who learned of her own breast cancer diagnosis just as her husband, former Sen. John Edwards (D., N.C.) was concluding his stint as Kerry's 2004 running mate.
Heinz said she had not spoken with Elizabeth Edwards about her own cancer bout.