Who knows what to think about mammograms?

Over the past five years I’ve had eight sets of mammograms.

Why so many?

The first three of those years, after the screenings, I was called back for diagnostic mammograms.   Those target specific areas.  Since the compression is targeted, and seems higher, they hurt, really hurt.  The last time, the tech thanked me for not crying or cursing at her.  She said those are the usual responses.

The moments of pain are nothing, though, compared to the worry while you are waiting for that second appointment.  Even though I know – no, I don’t know, that is why I worry.  Even though I suspect that the extra mammo and ultrasound will reveal what I already know, that I have cysts, I still worry.

While I’m worrying, I question whether the tests are worth the anxiety they cause me.

My GP and my gynecologist, the one who just retired, never seeme to share that question.  They both embrace the mammo-every-year-after-40 policy.

I never feel fully convinced, but I don’t want to be negligent, so I go back every year for another smashogram.

I read an article the other day, that amplifies all my doubts over whether these mammograms are benefiting me.

I already thought that all the X-ray radiation to my breasts was not a good thing at all.  I spent my whole life refusing to have my teeth x-rayed  annually, but I’ve had my breasts repeatedly squashed and x-rayed over the past five years.

That doesn’t seem right, but I’m more afraid of dying from breast cancer than ending up with dentures.

However, when the New England Journal of Medicine starts saying that with mammograms, I’m more likely to be misdiagnosed and/or die anyway, then maybe I should stop the annual smash-and-worry routine.

Of course, other experts disagree.  The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual screening starting at age 40.

I am almost resolved to discontinue the mammograms until I am 50, or at least to cutting back to every other year.  Every other year sounds like a good compromise, doesn’t it?

Then, another woman I know has a double mastectomy, and learns the cancer is already in her lymph nodes.  My resolve weakens.  I don’t know what to think.

Now is not the time to ask if she’d had annual mammograms throughout her 40’s, but I really want to know.  I want to know if she never had screenings, and if she had that the mammo would have caught the cancer earlier.  Or that she did have screenings and the radiation made it grow, even while the radiologist did not see it.

I want to know I’m making the best decision for my health.  I want easy answers, and there aren’t any.

And I am sad, so very sad, for another woman, another family that is afraid of what comes next.

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4 thoughts on “Who knows what to think about mammograms?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this too. I think my husband must have read the same article you read. I have seen so many conflicting bits of news and have no idea what the right decision is. I hope your friend gets good news about what comes next.

    • Thanks, I hope so, too. I think we are simply living in the dark ages of cancer research and treatment. I hope our granddaughters look back on this with horror, shocked by our lack of knowledge compared to theirs.

  2. Cancer scares me – and yes the advice is conflicting. In the UK mammograms aren’t recommended until you are over 50 and then it isn’t yearly. Pap tests are earlier and I turn up for those. Not looking forward to the mammograms in a few years. I too hope that the latest research into various types of cancer bring fruit in results and prevention.

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