Monday, May 3, 2010

My First Mammogram

One of our LifeBridge Health patients wrote the following account of her experience of finding a breast lump and having a diagnostic mammogram. Part One deals with finding a breast abnormality, specifically in a young woman. Part Two, which will be posted tomorrow, is about getting a mammogram for the first time.

I was watching TV one evening when a commercial for an area breast care center came on. It reminded me that I needed to do my monthly breast self-exam (BSE). As I approached my left nipple, I felt an unusual lump. Thinking it was monthly cycle-related, my first reaction was to check for a similar lump in my right breast. Nothing. Okay…, I thought, Maybe the lump will go away after my next period.

When it did not, I went to my doctor. She felt the lump too, and given my family history, she wanted me to get a mammogram even though I was only in my early 30s. My paternal grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 38. I had heard that women with a strong family history of breast cancer should have their first mammogram when they are 5 to 10 years younger than the earliest age at which their relatives were diagnosed with the disease.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with having a mammogram at such an early age. First, young breasts tend to be very dense, so the X-rays can be hard to read, even if they are digital. (However, some studies suggest that digital mammography is better than traditional film-based mammography for detecting abnormalities in dense breasts. Digital mammography also delivers less harmful radiation than the old technology) My doctor also gave me a script for a breast ultrasound, which gave the radiologist better information in my particular case.

Additionally, health insurance providers may be reluctant to cover the cost of a mammogram before age 35. Women who need to be screened earlier because of certain risk factors will be required to produce a special order from their doctor. Even so, this order might be questioned by insurance. However, I had a palpable lump, so coverage was easy for me to obtain.

If you have found a lump in your breast, do you know what to do? Ideally, routine screening mammography catches breast cancer early, before a lump can be felt. That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends that women with low to average risk for breast cancer should have a baseline mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40 to provide a record of what’s normal for them, and then get a screening mammogram every year from ages 40 to 70.

If you want to know more about your personal risk for breast cancer, you can take a free health assessment here.

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