Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For The Girls

I just had a second set of mammograms done. These cause a little bit of concern for me, as when there is a second set requested, it means the radiology doctors found something. I was supposed to have ultrasounds done as well, but it was ruled out when they found the lump disappeared upon the deep compression pictures.

Yes, I said deep compression pictures. For those who have never had to go through the second set before, be thankful. The second set is where a different top plate is used on the machine, and the compression is almost twice of what the normal mammograms call for. By compression, I mean they squeeze tighter.

I'm also thankful, given that I was getting a false positive, that I had the breast MRI's done. This is a new procedure that not all medical insurance will cover, but if you have dense, fibrous breasts (meaning there's a lot of tissue in there), you should get the MRI's. Click here for the Oprah show that talks about breast cancer and the types of screening now available.

There are a few tips I can give you to help you keep from having to have this done, if it's at all possible.

The first is timing. Schedule your initial mammograms the week or two after your menstrual cycle. Just prior and during your menstrual cycle your breasts are more sensitive and that makes the mammograms more painful. Schedule it in the morning, if you can, so that you do not have to go throughout the day with no deodorant on.

The second tip is to shower, not take a bath, but shower just prior to going in. This will make sure you have the least amount of fragrance on your upper body and will help you to be fresh for the testing. When you do shower, bathe from the top down. In other words, wash your hair first. Then wash the upper part (fragrance free), then the bottom part (regular soap). Again, it will keep the fragrance crystals from showing up and giving false positives which can provoke a second set of mammograms. Make sure you scrub not only the front and breasts, but also the sides as part of the imaging is checking the lymph nodes on each side behind the breasts.

The third tip, which has really saved me, is to use a 100% fragrance free facial soap from the waist up. Personally, I use Clinique mild facial soap, but any other will do, as long as it is 100% fragrance free. This not only allows you to wash yourself, but it will eliminate leftover fragrance from soap, deodorant and hair care products.

Here is another, and very crucial, tip for ALL of your breast exams. Get copies of the typed results the lab provides your doctor. You can request them from your doctor (it is your right to have access to all of your medical data from your doctor). This way you can read what was found for yourself. Keep the records in a file folder, along with a 1 - 2 page medical information sheet that you should have typed up about yourself, listing allergies (foods and medications), medications you take - the strength and dosages, and listing your vaccinations and major medical issues (broken bones, stitches, chicken pox, etc.). This should also be kept in your medical file folder.

This is why I am so picky about this:

In 2003 I had my first mammograms. I was 35 years old, which is when they start you on them unless there is a history in your family. When the first set of mammograms were done, there was a lump found in each breast. I went in for a second set, plus the ultra sounds. It still was unclear what the lumps were, so stereotactic biopsies (needle biopsies) were done on each breast. The left breast was cleared as benign, but the right breast still was undetermined, so excision was ordered. By this time I had a fantastic breast surgeon referred to me, and she was on top of everything. To have an excision biopsy is a lumpectomy. Yes, I went under the knife. I'll have to post later what they do when this is happening, it's actually pretty interesting. It's called a lumpectomy if the lump is malignant, if it's benign it's called an excision biopsy.

When I went in for the primary part of the surgery, however, I found that they had listed the wrong breast for the surgery. There was some confusion from the lab reports as to which breast needed the excision. Because I had the photocopies of all of the breast exams done, I was able to pull them out and show them, on the last exam, which was the correct breast. A call was made to the surgeon as a new prescription form would be needed, and I was able, through my own record keeping, to avoid a medical mistake.

I'm very grateful for the technology that allows for this, and I'm grateful for the knowledge I have to make these things go a little better when I have my breasts checked every year.

I hope everyone out there will also do the same.


Shellee said...

Thanks for the tips, I will totally tell my sisters to check your blog. This is so important to me because being adopted, I don't have a family history and don't know if I have "The Gene".

Missy said...

Thanks for your advice, this is definitely an important topic for all women. I'm glad that you were able to set them straight so they did the correct surgery!!

Dawn Bushman said...

Thank you both. This is definitely an important topic for women, and sometimes doctors are not always up on the latest in the technology.

My doctor didn't know about the Breast MRI's until I told them about it.

I was proactive on that, in that I spoke with the SMIL people, and then contacted my health insurance to make sure the procedure would be covered. I don't know that I'll do it every year (although given what happened this time is just more reason to get it done every year), but it was worth giving the radiology doctors more information to go on when they do the screenings.