You likely remember the uproar a year or so ago when a Blue Ribbon Commission suggested changing/reducing the guidelines for mammograms. Although there is a lot of evidence that mammograms don't save lives, we all know women whose early cancers were identified by this test. The distinction between statistics based on large populations vs individual stories is real. Personally, my first breast cancer in 1993 never showed on a mammogram--even when I and my surgeon could palpate it--and my second in 2005 was identified by mammography before it could be felt. Put me in the "I'm going to have one every year" camp. For the record, based on my history of two cancers, I also have an annual MRI.
Here is a nice article from The Boston Globe about one woman's experience. I give you a quote and then the link to read the whole essay:
Suddenly, the debate over mammograms was personal
By Elizabeth Cooney | October 25, 2010
No one wants to be the woman in the mammography waiting room who gets called back for another set of breast
images. Or the one who gets a call a week later saying the radiologist wants more imaging done.
But there I was, back for more. After faithfully getting screened through my 40s and early 50s, I had graduated to thenext level of breast cancer diagnosis. Some women get ultrasound imaging to distinguish between benign cysts and tumors, but radiologists had spotted a cluster of calcifications in one of my breasts, and ultrasound alone wouldn't be
able diagnose it. Magnified, circled, and pinpointed, these calcium deposits looked like specks of salt on a blackboard. Calcifications can be fellow travelers with cancer cells, I was told, so I needed to have a biopsy to sample the surrounding cells to see if they were ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, precursors of cancer that grow in the breast's
I nodded my head, but I didn't like seeing the box for "abnormality'' checked on my chart. I felt like my luck was running out, no matter how healthy my habits or long-lived my relatives. Knowing so many women with breast cancer, some quite advanced, I also figured, why not me?
My abnormality was in a spot where it couldn't be sampled by the relatively common procedure of using a needle that a radiologist guides by ultrasound to withdraw cells for a pathologist to test for cancer. I required a needle to be inserted for a different purpose: to locate the abnormality so I could be wheeled from the radiology suite into the
operating room with it still in place. My surgeon would make an incision, snare some tissue around the needle, and send it to the lab for biopsy.
I missed two days of work and three days of training for the marathon I'm running on Sunday. I had slight bruising and a hair-thin scar, and resounding relief when I found out my abnormality was not cancer.
I am fortunate. I don't have to contemplate surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy. I don't have to worry about cancer shortening my days, at least not for now. I don't have to agonize over whether I really needed to go through all that for an early form that might not get worse. But I do wonder how many other women have to travel this path.