Monday, February 7, 2011

False Alarm

One of the arguments for not doing mammograms annually for women under 50 is that there would be more false  positives than true positives and few women would actually be 'saved' and there would be a lot of needless anxiety. Out in breast cancer blogsphere, there is not much support for this new, controversial recommendation as many there are under 50. Many of their stories start like this: I felt a lump but was told I was too young to have breast cancer. I was told to wait and see. By the time my lump was checked out, it had spread all over the place. The youngest breast cancer blogger I have found is Bridget of MyBigGirl Pants ( She discovered that she had Stage 4 BC when she was only 21.

In general, people don't blog about their false alarms. It doesn't make much a blog but here goes...

I have seen both sides of the coin. Since my mother had had breast cancer, I thought I was at increased risk and went for annual mammograms since I was 35 (taking  2 years off for my 2 pregnancies in my late 30s). Around 15 years ago, the company arranged for a mammogram van to give us free mammograms on site. I went again  the next year and was asked if I ever had my suspicious lesion checked out. What suspicious lesion? They had sent the results to my primary care doctor but not to me. He meanwhile never looked at it. Why didn't you send it to me? Well we are reviewing our policy....

Suffice it to say I was furious and scared. This thing had a whole year to grow. So I showed up to have it followed up in another health care system. The radiologist said it looked like cancer to her and confirmed with an ultrasound. She said I was 'lucky' as it appeared to be very early on. I was trying to wrap my head around how having cancer was lucky. She arranged for a biopsy to be done in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile I found out my insurance wouldn't cover that particular system and  I was told to start over in a new system. I was beside myself with worry and noone was helping me find a new doctor. Finally I called the UM breast cancer center in tears and a very nice woman arranged everything for me. Still a full 2 months had passed on top of the year....I couldn't sleep at night, I was so scared. I think this whole business was more upsetting than when much later on  when I really had cancer. On the day of the biopsy, they insisted on taking their own films, over and over again. Finally I met with the surgeon. She told me that in her opinion, I had nothing worth biopsying. She had obtained my old films and she said the lesion was there too. It hadn't changed  in a very long time so it probably was NOT cancer. Still to be sure, I was to come in every 3 months, then 6 months to make sure it stayed the same. At one point I was weaned to just once a year but then a radiologist said it looked too scary to ignore to her and I was back getting mammograms every 6 months. Towards the end, I had skipped a few. When I finally got a mammogram in 9-08, it had been almost 18 months since the last. But this new growth was no where near the suspicious spot!
In my second surgery, they decided to remove the original suspicious spot. It was benign. Since my tumor grew so fast, if I had gotten my mammogram back in May like I was supposed to, it probably would not have been there but I guess I will never know.

Yeah it is true that many cancers are missed in young breasts. They need a new screening technique. But until then, it seems that many cancers are detected in those under 50 with the mammograms. They are more likely to have the fast growing type: waiting every 2 years could kill them.

It is the last 'warm' day for awhile so I ran in the slush. I so want February to be over..

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