Are you feeling confused by the ongoing debate about mammography? Who isn’t, right?
Mammography has been in the news a great deal of late; but the debate about it has been going on for years now. I have wanted to write about this issue ever since I started blogging, but haven’t gotten around to tackling it until now.
The mammography debate can be quite polarizing. It sometimes seems as if you must pick a side. This is the way we like things; black and white, clear and defined. We don’t like fuzzy, gray areas; perhaps especially when we are talking about issues affecting our health. We expect the medical community to be able to tell us what to do. We want to think we have chosen the right “side.”
Women want to know if they should be having mammograms or not. They want answers.
The trouble is, there is not a simple one-size-fits-all answer. And basically, we have been relying on one-size-fits-all technology, mammography, as our screening tool to provide one-size-fits-all answers. In a nutshell, this is the problem.
Another reason I have not tackled this topic yet is because there are so many facets to the discussion. It’s hard to know where to start. Tackling the topic in one blog post seems too daunting, so I am trying to break it down by putting my thoughts into a couple of posts. And please keep in mind, these are my thoughts. I am no expert.
First of all, it’s important to remember that there two kinds of mammograms. There is the screening version and there is the diagnostic version. For an explanation about the differences, click here.
The debate is about the screening type for the woman at average risk.
It’s important to also remember that each woman approaches and judges mammography based on her own personal experiences. This is how we make judgments on most, or at least many things we are faced with in life is it not?
If you are a woman whose cancer was discovered by way of a mammogram, then you may well be convinced that a mammogram saved your life. Many women proclaim this very thing as an absolute truth.
However, making such a statement is flawed because these same women will not know if their lives were indeed saved by a mammogram until later. Whether your cancer metastasizes or not (in other words, its biology) more than likely will determine your survival, not a mammogram per se. And an early diagnosed cancer can metastasize later on too, so stating that a mammogram saved your life is sort of premature and potentially inaccurate.
And yet we hear these kinds of statements being said by celebrities or whoever in the media time and time again. It’s not quite that simple. Though important, it’s not all about early detection. We have to face this fact.
If you are a woman who faithfully had mammograms and despite your diligence, your cancer was not detected via that route for whatever reason, well, your thoughts on mammography are going to be quite different.
And if you are a young woman under forty who never had a mammogram because, you don’t need a mammogram because you’re too young to get cancer, and yet you did get cancer, your thoughts will be yet again, quite different.
I started having mammograms around age forty because I was following my doctor’s recommendations and so, mammography became part of my routine physicals around that time. I was, in fact, having my annual physical discussing my next mammogram when my mother took her last breath.
Isn’t that ironic on so many levels?
So the last mammogram I had before the big ‘C’ barged into my life was in 2008. It was normal.
Was my cancer already there, but merely went undetected? Who knows?
When I was first diagnosed, I felt a lot of guilt because I had not had my yearly physical or mammogram in 2009. Among other things, I was busy grieving. This whole mammogram guilt/regret thing is worthy of a post all its own at some point…
Did mammography eventually detect my cancer?
No, it did not.
I was experiencing chest pain. It’s all rather complicated, and no, cancer doesn’t generally cause pain in the beginning, but pain is what got me in the door. I actually thought I was having a heart attack, hence my visit to my local hospital ER. After a few more surprises in the ER, a heart attack was ruled out, but cancer was ruled in, or at least the chain of events leading up to my diagnosis was set in motion.
As I said, I carried guilt “baggage” around with me for quite some time for missing that mammogram in 2009 until one very kind nurse said to me one day, “Nancy, you were actually following the new recommended guidelines for women in your age bracket.” And she was right; I was. And yet I felt that guilt…
Why am I sharing all this?
I’m trying to illustrate that personal experience, in this case mine, is anecdotal in nature. It is not based on scientific experience or evidence.
And it is time to start facing the science regarding mammography.
Stay tuned for part 2. Coming soon!
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, how was it first detected?
Where do you stand on the mammography ‘debate’?
If you have written (or read) a post on mammography that you’d like to share, feel free to leave a link to it.