So, in case you were wondering, my tumor was not detected by a mammogram. Despite its 1.6 centimeter girth, the mammogram machine couldn’t see it.
Having done my own research, I knew that mammograms were not so great for younger women with dense breast tissue. I also knew that every mammogram you receive sends a small but measurable dose of cancer-causing radiation directly into highly sensitive breast tissue. Most doctors however, have not done this research. The doctor and nurse practitioner I saw in Juneau literally treated me like a foolish and recalcitrant child for insisting I wanted an ultrasound and biopsy (and not a mammogram) to diagnose the lump I felt with my fingers. I have never experienced so much condescension backed by so little science.
Scared and overwhelmed, I finally consented to receive a mammogram after I was diagnosed with 1.6 centimeters of the real deal – Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I stood next to the mammogram technician in Seattle and asked her to point out the tumor amid the glowing tangle of grey that represented my breasts. She couldn’t. It was not visible. My doctors in Seattle, otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned, swiftly changed the subject when I tried to ask why younger women with dense breast tissue are routinely given mammograms that do not show cancer but are known to cause it.
The next month, the New England Journal of Medicine informed the world that the mammography boom has not changed the mortality rate for breast cancer. Billions of dollars spent, millions of women radiated, and still, 40,000 women will die this year just like they did in 1975, before the mammogram industry grabbed the reins.
I bring this up because I want you to know why I’m making the choices I’m making about cancer. The obsession my doctors had with mammograms – a technology that literally hurt me more than it helped me – caused me to lose trust in them. I still trust that the doctors I’ve seen truly want the best for me, but at what point does their indoctrination in a medical establishment dominated by industry hurt people more than it helps?
I’m choosing to search for answers to this question with my body on the line, which might scare you. But it feels good and right to think for myself and to walk my talk.
Figure from Trends in Metastatic Breast and Prostate Cancer — Lessons in Cancer Dynamics H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., M.P.H., David H. Gorski, M.D., Ph.D., and Peter C. Albertsen, M.D.N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1685-1687 October 29, 2015