One of the more dreaded things in life for most women (dare I say all!) surely has to be the exercise of going for an annual Mammogram.
This tends to be a time of great anxiety for many of us and the wait for the results can make time feel as though it’s standing still.
While we all anxiously await and hope for the “all clear” there’s also another critical piece of information we should be looking for . . . our breast density/ BI-RADS result.
BI-RADS is a system adopted by the American Society of Radiologists and it categorizes breast tissue into four categories: breasts that are almost entirely comprised of fatty tissue, breasts with scattered fibro glandular tissue, breasts which are heterogeneously dense or those breasts which are extremely dense. It’s a universal measurement so mammography results can be clearly and concisely shared globally.
So what does all of this mean exactly and why is it so critical to know what one’s breast density /BI-RADS results are?
Mammography reflects breast tissue composition and simply put, fatty breasts are more translucent hence providing optimal screening as it allows the radiologist to pick up on any abnormalities. Conversely, dense breast tissue makes seeing abnormalities extremely difficult and we’ve all heard the mantra about the importance of early detection.
Nothing is more glorious than after anxiously awaiting one’s results, to receive the call with those golden words of, “Everything looks great, see you next year.”
This year my doctor had his nurse deliver the news . . . I was officially celebrating 10 years of being cancer free and a copy of the report was being emailed to me. It was a feeling of great elation.
The next day as I went through my email I came across the promised report. I’m not sure what prompted me to read it but suffice it to say I did and my celebratory feeling quickly vanished as my eyes scanned over its contents.
While the radiologist wasn’t wanting to see me again until next year, he had made a notation stating that “optimal screening wasn’t possible due to the patients extremely dense breast tissue.”
I had absolutely no clue what those words meant but I did know that no woman would ever want to hear that optimal screening wasn’t possible.
I instantly felt sick . . . quite literally . . . sick to my stomach and so many questions began to flood my thoughts.
When a person learns that they have extremely dense breast tissue they’re also learning that they have a 4 – 6 times greater chance of developing breast cancer. I can tell you, it rings every alarm bell possible and a flood of thoughts comes with it.
What is the point in subjecting a women with dense breast tissue to Mammography if the results are going to be less than optimal?
How can a radiologist determine there’s no need to repeat the mammogram for another year when he can’t properly see things and why didn’t my doctor inform me of the finding of my extremely dense breast tissue . . . especially after having had a prior diagnosis of breast cancer?
I have to admit that I’ve been filled with a lot of anger today . . . it’s not pretty but it’s here as I reflect upon a system that often seems to be remiss in advocating prevention.
My original diagnosis was a result of a lump that I detected and a radiologist had determined as being “nothing.” It simply wasn’t worthy of a proactive approach by some mystical set of standards set out by the healthcare system.
I was told they’d follow me up in six months just as a precaution, a process I would come to learn is known as “watchful waiting” which consists of following a lump for 18 months to ensure its stability.
During the 18 month period of watchful waiting, I’d also been dealing with my Mother’s diagnosis of terminal peritoneal cancer and after a year of having the lump followed I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
As much as I didn’t want to know . . . I knew I needed to know so I could put my fears aside and concentrate on caring for my Mom.
I explained my situation to the radiologist and asked for a biopsy but I was told that the lump didn’t meet “protocol” so there was no need for a biopsy. The radiologist then spoke words I’ll never forget . . . “Trust me, its nothing, I’m staking my professional reputation on it.”
Six months later and what was to be my last mammogram of the 18 months of watchful waiting, I learned a person should always go with their gut feeling. As a result of ignoring mine, I was now embarking on my journey with breast cancer.
Ten years later I find myself in a somewhat similar situation. A radiologist telling me I don’t need to be seen for another year despite not being able to perform optimal screening.
Armed with the knowledge of my BI-RADS rating I’ve had to ask myself, . . . is this really any different than the watchful waiting I went through 10 years ago?
I have to say that sitting with this information that has been treated so cavalierly by the medical profession has my head spinning.
How is this information left to chance to be “possibly” passed on to the patient? I shudder to think of how many women are out there in a similar position without this knowledge and the opportunity to make decisions about their health and life. Shouldn’t every women have the right to take preventive measures if she chooses?
I can’t help but wonder if the medical profession ensured this information was shared with patients, just how many breast cancer diagnosis might be avoided?
While I’m grateful to live in the era I do where this kind of knowledge is available thanks to today’s technology, I’m angered to think that in some cases it’s not being utilized and lives are being put at risk as a result.
This information needs to be in the hands of every woman. Please share this post with the women in your life and if you don’t know your breast density /BI-RADS classification I encourage you to talk to your doctor to get it . . . your life could quite literally depend on it.