It was the beginning of April 2014 and I was being fast tracked in for a mammogram. Now who doesn’t like a good mammogram? Your breast is pulled away from your body and flattened between two cold plates! What fun! Uncomfortable to say the least. For women with dense breast tissue like myself, the procedure is quite painful. I always think to myself, how can this be good for me and my body health?
Mammograms are an x-ray of the breast, which means you are receiving a form of radiation. A mass is usually, but not always, denser than normal breast tissue. During a mammogram, as mentioned before, the breast is compressed between two plates and the x-ray will take an image of the breast. If there is a mass, it will appear as a white area on the x-ray. Mammograms do not view the whole chest wall or your armpit. Did you know that mammograms have a 25% false positive rate?
I have also since learned that mammograms work best for soft breast tissue and are not that effective for dense breast tissue, large breasts, fibrocystic breasts, enhanced breasts, or women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I didn’t know that. Huh.
Interestingly, the evidence of harm and the lack of benefit from mammograms have led the Swiss Medical Board to recommend abolishing mammography altogether as a mass-screening program.
I gather that the technicians didn’t like what they saw during my mammogram because they had me come back that very afternoon for an ultrasound.
Ultrasounds are usually not painful. But, April 2nd was an unusual day. My breasts had already been poked, prodded, and squeezed. In order to obtain a clear image, the technician pressed quite firmly on my breast on top of and around the lump. That can’t be good for the lump if it was a tumor, I thought to myself. And it certainly wasn’t good for me. The ultrasound was very painful.
Ultrasound uses sound waves that echo back to a computer when it encounters a mass in the breast tissue. Like a mammogram, if the mass is the same density as normal breast tissue, no echo will be produced. Whereas mammograms are a screening method, ultrasounds are a diagnostic tool that, when used correctly, can assist in determining whether the mass is benign or malignant.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and pulses radio wave energy to make pictures of your internal body. An MRI does not use x-ray radiation. However, if you have a pacemaker, metal implants, or metal chips, you will not be able to have an MRI due to the magnetic component of the process. An MRI, like ultrasound, is a diagnostic tool. It is being used to assist doctors in determining the best method of surgery to recommend to their cancer patients.
You should be aware that, while all diagnostic tools are effective at what they do, only a biopsy can definitively confirm breast cancer.
As with anything, it is always best to be proactive. Whether you choose the path of conventional or traditional medicine, trust your intuition for the best approach to your health care.
Women are repeatedly told that early detection is important and that we should have regularly scheduled mammograms. But, do the benefits of mammograms out way the risks? Isn’t there a tool for women that is safe, painless, and preventative? Why yes actually, there is. It’s called thermography.
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