Mammograms still can’t see everything

The technology continues to improve but mammograms still can’t see everything

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Thursday, May 5, I had my first post-surgery mammogram, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid of it. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d been stressing for a week. My poor left boob had already been biopsied, injected, sliced in two different places, scanned a couple of times, and radiated. It seemed logical that subjecting that abused, scarred tissue to the none-too-gentle clench of a mammogram machine was just asking for pain.

Adding still more stress was the knowledge that even after the tumor had been confirmed with ultrasound and its location marked, it could not be seen on a mammogram because it was so close to the bone. But at least a mammo could see if any new cancer had developed in other areas.

Yes, it was pretty uncomfortable, but not a whole lot worse than what I’ve experienced before. The tech did do two extra exposures, trying to see as much as possible of the tumor bed. And she was able to get about half of it, the part farthest away from my ribs.

The radiologist was on site to read the films, and after 5 or 10 minutes she came out and told me everything looked clear. Everything that showed on the films, that is. Diagnostic mammography could not see my tumor, and subsequent mammos won’t be able to see where it was. But at least they can reassure me and the doctor that in those areas that can be seen, no new tumors are developing. I guess that means I’m partially relieved?

So was the whole episode stressful? I could barely drag myself inside when I got home and immediately crashed for a 2-hour nap. That night I slept for 10 hours. Yep, I’d say there was stress. And anxiety. But at least now I know what to expect next year.

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Note: Per the online test report I received, “CAD was utilized for this examination. Tomosynthesis was performed.” Tomosynthesis is the newest advance in mammography. As explained on the Massacusetts General Hospital website:

Conventional digital mammography produces one image of overlapping tissue, making it difficult to detect cancers. Performed with digital mammography using the same scanner, breast tomosynthesis takes multiple images of the entire breast. It allows our specialized breast radiologists to see through layers of tissue and examine areas of concern from all angles. Benefits can include:

• Earlier detection of small breast cancers that may be hidden during digital mammography

• Greater accuracy in pinpointing size, shape and location of abnormalities

• Fewer unnecessary biopsies or additional tests

• Greater likelihood of detecting multiple breast tumors, which occur in 15% of breast cancer patients

• Clearer images of dense breast tissue

10 thoughts on “Mammograms still can’t see everything”

  1. So much to have learned & experienced in a year’s time. You haven’t detected any of the twinges so easily dismissed at first, right? Add to a clear mammo reading & it sounds about as good as possible! Hmm, be glad humans aren’t “equipped” like cats & dogs?? 😉

    1. LOL. Yikes, that’s a horrible thought.
      No, no pains like the first ones. Occasional tiny pin prick sensations, or a feeling of tightness or pulling where there’s scar tissue. All perfectly normal, they say. Probably wouldn’t even notice that if I weren’t so hypersensitive. Right now the slightest little thing that might be abnormal is like “Squirrel!”

        1. Saturday there were tornadoes to the north and east of us, hail to the north, east, and south, and snow/rain/hail in the mountains. And all I got in my yard was a couple of drops of rain. Yesterday there were major storms east and northeast of here. Again I got no rain. Go figure.

            1. Seems odd you should need water so soon after all the flooding down there. But as always, the trick is getting it in the right place. My trees all look great, but I may have to hand water them pretty soon since the storms keep skipping my house. Sprinklers probably won’t be turned on for another couple of weeks.

"You don’t have to say everything to say something." ~Beth Moore

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