A Minute Well Spent: Sign up for a (Free) Mammogram Reminder
A woman in her 40’s feels an odd thickening in her breast one day while taking a shower. She calls her doctor, who immediately refers her to a radiology practice for a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram. The patient asks her doctor to check her chart and tell her when she had her last screening mammogram; she thinks it was maybe just over a year ago. Her life is extremely busy, and with four children ranging in ages from 5 to 17, she’s not always able to keep track of her own medical appointments. The doctor tells her that her last mammogram was actually 20 months before, and had been read as negative. The patient has dense breasts, her doctor was aware of the limitations of mammography because of the dense tissue, (see What Breast Density Means To You) and had routinely sent the patient for a yearly sonogram as well as a mammogram, to increase the effectiveness of screening for this woman. Twenty months ago, that sonogram had also been read as negative.
At her appointment for her breast imaging studies, she receives the awful news that her mammogram and sonogram show a new mass in her breast where she feels the thickening. A needle biopsy is performed, and the diagnosis of breast cancer is made. To make things even more terrifying, it is clear that her tumor has spread to the lymph nodes under her arm, worsening her prognosis. She is now facing advanced breast cancer.
Though there is no certainty that her cancer would have been found at an earlier stage if she’d kept to her yearly mammogram schedule and had gone for her routine tests when they’d been due 8 months before, the patient is haunted by this question. She feels guilty, sad and angry, and wonders if she’s made her situation worse for herself and her family because of her oversight. No one can tell her whether or not things would have been any different, but that is of little comfort to her. The best she can do is to put these thoughts out of her head, and concentrate her energies on facing the long treatment road that lies ahead.
So how do women remember when they are due for their mammograms? Personally, I schedule it during my birthday month, which makes it easier for me to remember. My practice sends out patient reminders each year; however, not all radiology centers do this. I recently learned that there is a free reminder service offered by www.mammographysaveslives.org, sponsored by the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging. It takes less than a minute to sign up here. Might be a minute well spent.