Protect Yourself From Bad Mammograms
- Check the FDA’s website to look for mammography centers which have been flagged for safety violations.
- If your center changes hands, ask for confirmation of the credentials for your new physician.
- Ask to have results shared with your primary care physician so that doctor can have a second look
- Confirm that records have been received and checked by your primary care doctor
Check With the FDA
The FDA posts updated safety notifications, listing mammography centers that fail to meet the standards set forth in the Mammography Quality Standards Act. The agency also requires flagged centers to notify affected patients and their health care providers that their recent mammograms could show unreliable results. Ten facilities are currently listed but, as of today, the Virginia facility is not among them.
Advice From A Patient Who’s Been ThereRead More
Share Your Mammogram Results
“Ask your radiologist to share your mammogram results with your primary care physician,” Newberry says. “That way, you’ll have a backup set if your mammography center goes out of business.” In fact, Newberry did this, but discovered — too late — that her records were never sent: “Confirm that they’ve received them,” she adds. She’s called, written, and papered the doors and windows of her now-closed mammography center with letters requesting her records; so far, to no avail.
Dr. Connie Lehman, Chief of the Breast Imaging Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, on dense breasts and mammograms
If Your Center Changes Hands — Re-Confirm Credentials
Newberry wasn’t alarmed when her mammography center changed hands two years ago. “I assumed they’d sold the business to a qualified radiologist.” Except for a new doctor at the helm, the office remained unchanged.
She saw no cause for concern — except one: “They gave me a carnation at appointments,” she says, “that annoyed the hell out of me — I just want the facts.” It’s uncertain whether a check of the new radiologist with her state medical board may have yielded red flags. But know that when a mammography center changes management, the quality of care can change, as well.
Diagnostic Vs. Screening Mammograms
Other ways to protect yourself: If you’ve detected a lump, make sure you’re getting a diagnostic mammogram — not a screening mammogram, which is for women who have no other signs of
disease. In one allegation, the Virginia doctor, Michael John Bigg, MD, “failed to order a diagnostic mammogram” for a patient who had a lump in her breast. The screening mammogram failed to include metal markers around the suspected lump during the imaging process and the lump was overlooked.
Know If You Have Dense Breasts
Dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to detect cancer with a regular mammogram. Unfortunately, only a mammogram can determine if you have dense breast tissue.
Bestselling author and breast cancer survivor Laura Morton learned an important lesson about self-advocacy during a mammogram.
Dense breast tissue blocks the X-Ray and so that looks white," says Dr. Connie Lehman, Chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Unfortunately cancers also block the X-Ray and also look white. And so when you have a white cancer, hiding in white dense breast tissue, it can be missed."
When author and breast cancer survivor, Laura Morton, asked her radiologist about dense breasts, she was brushed off. "You can not feel if you have dense breasts. You have to be told,” Morton says. So if your radiologists can’t answer your question, make sure your doctor does. Given your risk factors, you may want to opt for 3D mammography or a breast ultrasound, instead.
Be Aware of Breast Calcifications
Half of all women who get a mammogram after they reach menopause will likely hear they have calcifications in their breasts. In most cases, calcifications in the breast are benign, but in some instances, the presence of large clusters of calcium can indicate what’s known as “stage zero breast cancer,” or even full-fledged breast cancer. To know for sure, further testing is required.