Mammogram – the word strikes fear in some people, and I can relate to that. Even so, I know how important it is to have a regular mammogram and I wish I’d been able to have one in 1986 before my breast cancer grew to the size where I could feel a lump. Now doctors are more aware that breast cancer can strike younger women, and there are screening programs available to provide early detection.
I’m a 22 year survivor of breast cancer and I work as a mammographer, so I know the anxiety of waiting for results. I understand the embarrassment of some women who don’t want a stranger to see their breasts, and if you add to that the fear of pain and exposure to radiation, it’s no wonder that mammograms get a bad rap.
However, a mammogram is still the gold standard in breast screening large numbers of women; until there is a better solution, mammography is the answer to finding small cancers which can be easily treated and have a good outcome. There are other modalities which can detect breast cancer, but for various reasons such as cost, wait times, and accuracy they are not yet considered appropriate for screening.
Having a mammogram is uncomfortable because of the compression paddle, but I remember doing mammography before we used compression; the films were so poor we couldn’t even detect small lumps, let alone calcifications the size of a pin head. Today, there are new digital machines which are so much better than older machines. The new machines deliver less radiation, more information, and the paddle action provides more comfort than the older paddles.
The time taken for a mammogram is about 5 minutes, so even if it does create anxiety, it’s short lived. If I had been able to access a good quality mammogram when my cancer was in the early stages, it would have saved me and my family from the pain and grief we had to endure for years. It was like a nightmare as I went through surgery, chemotherapy and the fear of dying when we still had 3 young teenagers at home. The payoff for a timely mammogram would have been huge for me and for the health care system.
Mammograms are not perfect; they offer 75% accuracy in younger women and around 90% accuracy in older women. But when I consider that a mammogram can provide early detection of a disease such as breast cancer, I would choose to have a mammogram any day. The pros definitely outweigh the cons in my book.