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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Why your screening mammogram sucks

What, you thought that you were well protected with those much applauded mammograms?  Safe, because even it cancer strikes, you will find out right away and it won't be a big deal?  Feeling even safer, because there is no family history and you lead a healthy, active lifestyle?

Not necessarily. If you have dense breast tissue, please investigate further. Do not depend solely on this tool.

Why?  Because my mammogram was squeaky clean, a mere 3 months prior to my Stage II (bordering Stage III) IDC was discovered (by me feeling the very large lump in my breast). Also by then, it had already spread to at least one lymph node. Scary, yes?

Even more concerning, was my Oncologist's seeming nonplussed reaction to the timing and "clean" mammogram. Well, she said, with dense tissue, it's impossible to see it sometimes. What. The. Hell. Apparently, it is not uncommon to miss it with a normal mammogram, which is the standard test, the one I relied on for years and subjected myself to, and its false sense of absolute security. Did you also know that reading scans is somewhat of an art form?  That different practices and fields have differing diagnostics?  That the skill of the radiologist is paramount?  Had my cancer not been so prominently placed and large, it would easily have progressed to Stage IV, quickly. I'm grateful it was such an attention whore and placed itself right under my nose. I can tell you that the minute the ultrasound was brought out, the entire tone of the staff changed from routine to serious business, mere minutes after the diagnostic mammogram tech told me that it was likely a cyst!  I knew I was in some trouble then.

There is talk of legislation and it may already be required in some states, that patients with dense breast tissue are advised that a regular screening mammogram may not be sufficient as a screening tool. It was not the case in Florida in 2014, and though I knew that my tissue was dense, the full ramifications and dangers were never explained to me, and no other option besides a plain old screening mammogram ever advised or even discussed. Perhaps if I'd had the ultrasound my cancer would have been discovered earlier, saving me much pain, money, suffering, disfigurement and trauma.

Maybe we need a new slogan for October, "If your breasts are dense, take offense."