By Laura Beil; image from Rodale
How bizarre are these cases of mistaken identity?
Do you stick to your annual check-ups? Yearly mammogram after a certain age? “Early detection saves lives.” This mantra – the crux of countless public service announcements and awareness campaigns around cancer – is as encouraging as it is empowering. Plus, underdiagnosis remains a problem in SA, where cancers are often caught too late.
But at the opposite end of the spectrum, another issue is on the rise: that of overdiagnosis. As technology advances, science can now zoom in on miniscule flaws that make cancer detection a murkier matter.
If five women over the age of 40 were to get mammograms, one of them would be saved from dying of breast cancer. But another three could be called back for additional testing for a “false positive”, something that looks like cancer, but turns out to be harmless: a cyst or calcium deposit, benign tumour or dense tissue.
This phenomenon is being called overdiagnosis and, in recent years, it has morphed into a lightning rod due to the collateral damage it can cause: patients are exposed to the cost, emotional turmoil and side effects – some of them life-threatening themselves – of unnecessary surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Unlikely things can make mammograms more difficult to read – or throw off the results altogether. Here are three common things that can also mess with your mammogram results in a pretty substantial way:
1. Breast implants
Saline or silicone fillers can make it tricky to see certain parts of your breast during imaging. Ask your doc to refer you to a clinic with experience reading scans of women with implants.
In rare cases, tattoo ink can look like a cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. Make sure your doctor and radiologist know if you have skin art anywhere on your body.
Some antiperspirants contain substances that can show up on a mammogram as white spots. Skip it the day of your test.