Mom, Myth, and Mammograms
It’s that time of year again, where everything turns pink. Sometimes breast cancer is called the glamour cancer—NOT because anything about it is glamorous, but because the awareness surrounding it is very pink and attention grabbing. But let’s look at the reality of it. The statistics show that 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer, and it is the 2nd leading cause of death (for women). It’s daunting really, and yet with our advances in early detection screenings and treatment, we statistically have more survivors than ever before. So why do women dread or even avoid their mammograms?
Although, I am a little too young to start my annual mammograms, I’m fast approaching the time. It is something I think about often, because my grandmother died of breast cancer. And sadly, I can assertively say that she did not get regular screening. So now it is a constant conversation with my mother. Over the last few years, we have talked through so many reasons for avoiding her mammogram. Here are a few of the arguments I’ve heard my mom and a lot of women in general—and perhaps a few ways to handle some of those arguments.
- Mammograms are not guaranteed to be errorless
This is true. The data tells us that mammograms can miss up to 20% of breast cancers present at the time of screening, but that means they are 80% accurate to the detection of abnormal tissue (which doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer—more testing would be required).
- It’s too painful and just an overall uncomfortable situation
Valid point! We have a few suggestions for our patients to help decrease some of the pain.
- Try to avoid scheduling your appointment in the last 14 days of your menstrual cycle. It seems obvious because breasts are generally tender during that time, but it’s easy to lose track or forget when scheduling your appointment (or your appointment is scheduled for you). There are lots of apps for your phone that keep track of your cycles and are very accurate.
- This might be the hardest one of all if you require that morning jolt to function, but avoid caffeine as much as you can the week before your mammogram. It can actually make your breasts tender and even appear lumpy on the screening.
- Don’t use deodorant or powder on the day of your mammogram. The residue can alter the image which would require more testing. You probably didn’t want to do it the first time, so avoid a do over if you can.
- The technicians performing your mammogram do this all day--every day, so try not to be embarrassed. You’re in a vulnerable position, but the techs are professionals and want to make you as comfortable as possible.
- It’s a short procedure—you got this!
- Won’t the radiation from the mammogram actually give me cancer?
We’ve come a long way in our technology. According to the American Cancer Society, “One mammogram exposes a woman to roughly the same amount of radiation as flying from New York to California on a commercial jet.” Radiation in our everyday life in unavoidable, so I’m glad they’ve found a good use for some of it!
- The anxiety of the results is more than I can handle
This is probably the hardest hurdle to overcome. The very reason to have the screening is to find out the results. But the idea of dealing with the “C” word can be unbearable. Take it one step at a time—the first step is just like a general checkup. Take a friend or family member with you and try to plan something fun around it. And remember that the key is early detection. The decline in deaths from breast cancer is due in large part to early detection. It’s worth it, and your family will think so too.
So, whether you embrace the pink or despise it, remember its purpose is pure. And it seems to be working, because every October, we have a huge influx of screenings.
A few reminders:
Remember, the American College of Radiology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the Society of Breast Imaging and the American College of Surgeons all agree that screening mammography should begin at age 40 and should continue yearly while a woman is in good health.
Beebe Healthcare offers two options for screening mammography. Digital breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, is offered Beebe's Health Campuses in Rehoboth Beach, Millville, and Georgetown. Traditional mammography or 2D digital mammography is offered at all of Beebe’s locations.
Studies have shown that the cancer detection rate is higher for 3D mammography and the recall rate (need to scan again) following a 3D screening mammogram is lower. While every woman can benefit from 3D mammography, the benefits are greatest for women with dense breasts since having dense breasts can increase the risk of breast cancer and can make breast cancer harder to see on a mammogram. Ultrasound can be used to supplement mammography for women with dense breasts.