July 31, 2013 3 Comments
If you are a 40-year-old woman who has never had any symptoms of breast cancer, your doctor or your health insurance company probably will nudge you to get a “baseline mammogram” or “screening mammogram” done. This could detect any tumor that might be lurking, but most likely you won’t have a tumor and this procedure will create an image of your healthy breasts that can be kept on file to compare to later scans. It seems that a big part of cancer detection is looking for changes in a patient’s tissues rather than waiting for something to get so weird-looking that it’s obviously abnormal.
I had a baseline mammogram earlier this month. The nurse who did it cautioned me that I was likely to be among the approximately 10% of women who are asked to come back for additional scanning after the doctor looks at the first images, because I have “dense tissue” (this is a polite way of saying “small breasts”) which is more difficult to scan thoroughly because it doesn’t mash so nicely in the scanner. Indeed, I got a letter telling me to call to schedule a re-mash. It hasn’t been done yet, but I’m not worried (much) because I am one of those rare Earthlings with no family history of breast cancer. The reason it hasn’t been done yet is an important fact about the scheduling of mammograms, which nobody bothered to tell me until I was in the hospital gown, having taken off work and skipped wearing deodorant on a hot humid day, all ready to get scanned–and they had to cancel it.
Here is what everyone involved in arranging for patients to get screening mammograms ought to be trained to say:
“We recommend that you schedule the procedure in the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, if possible, for best results.” Read more…