Despite the frustration it causes, I’ve heard it said that the ongoing mammogram debate is actually a good thing. Debate and discussion facilitate more debate and discussion. More debate and discussion eventually facilitate (hopefully) change and improvement. Without debate, change and improvement happen even more slowly, if at all.
So while frustrating, the mammogram debate will help to eventually (again, hopefully) bring us to new and improved methods of more personalized screening. But until we get there, the frustration for many continues. To read more about mammograms from a personal angle, mine, click here for part 1 of this series. For some basic facts on mammograms, click here for part 2.
Despite the frustration, it’s important to not merely throw one’s hands in the air and say, I might as well do nothing. Doing nothing is not the answer either.
So, what’s the average woman to do?
For starters, ask questions.
Asking more questions results in gaining a better understanding. Gaining a better understanding enables you to make better informed decisions. Better informed decisions always trump those based on fear, inaccuracies, incomplete information or anything less than full disclosure.
Any sound decision first requires receiving, deciphering and then understanding available information.
But even then, the confusion lingers because again, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for all women.
The bottom line is that each woman needs to have a frank discussion about mammograms with her doctor and ultimately make the choices that she feels are best for her.
Easier said than done of course. It usually is, right?
Though mammography is an imperfect tool, it’s still the most readily available screening tool available and we are stuck with it until better ones come along. But there are definitely some questions to think about and possibly ask your doctor before your first or next mammogram.
Some of these things to discuss with your doctor are:
1. Your family history of breast cancer (if there is any) and be sure to discuss both sides of your family tree. If there is a hereditary cancer component in your family history, that’s a whole different ballgame.
2. Breast density matters. Have a discussion about whether your breasts are dense or not and what it means for you if they are.
3. Find out what other screening options are available, such as digital mammography and 3-D breast imaging, and if they are appropriate for you or not. MRIs and ultrasounds might also be discussed for some women.
4. Ask who will perform your mammogram and find out how much experience the individuals doing the test and reading the results have. Who is interpreting your results matters, sometimes a lot. Find out if your facility is FDA certified.
5. Find out exactly what a mammogram “looks” for.
6. Ask to have BOTH the risks and benefits of mammography explained to you. You deserve to hear both.
7. What are YOUR preferences. How do you feel about the potential risk of being over-diagnosed and/or over-treated? Or likewise, missing a diagnosis because you opted out of screening. How much risk either way are you comfortable living with?
8. Ask your doctor where he/she stands regarding mammograms for a woman of your risk in your age bracket.
9. Find out when you’ll get results, how long it takes to get them and how they will be explained to you.
10. Find out what happens if your mammogram finds something. What happens next?
11. Ask anything else that you are wondering about and don’t be put off.
To read the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines click here.
For Mayo Clinic’s screening guidelines, click here.
To read the 2009 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement for screenings, which caused a bit of an uproar, click here.
NOTE: To read the recently updated U.S. Preventive Services Task Force draft recommendations click here.
Again, it’s worth stating that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for all women. Mammograms are imperfect, but they are what we have. We need better options, but until then…
Without a doubt, our current screening methods for cancer of any kind (and treatment methods) will some day seem archaic. I wonder what the future holds…
I envision a machine a woman (or a man) could simply walk through, sort of like the TSA scanners at airports. I envision such a scanner detecting any suspicious cellular activity, sounding an alarm and directing the person to machine number two where any suspicious cancer activity would automatically be deactivated or simply zapped out. The person would then walk out of that machine as good as new and go about her business.
No need for slash, burn or poison. No need for a major life disruption.
There would be no more suffering from breast cancer, or any other kind, and certainly no more dying from it.
Just a hopeless dream?
Today’s dream might be tomorrow’s reality.
What a lovely reality that would be.
What would you add to the list?
What is your position on the mammogram debate?
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