Mammograms Can Be More Stressful Than Cancer
Stresses Over Mammography Plague Breast Cancer Survivors
Feb. 10, 2004 -- For a woman who has survived breast cancer, a
follow-up mammogram may be a more stressful experience than her initial cancer
A new study shows breast cancer survivors find mammography two
to four times more stressful than women who have never had breast cancer or
those who are newly diagnosed with the disease.
Experts say mammograms can be a stressful experience for any
woman, regardless of her medical history. But failure to get the recommended
breast cancer screening can only increase a woman's risk by allowing cancers to
Despite recommendations for annual mammography among breast
cancer survivors, a previous study showed that 30% of these women had not
received a mammogram in the previous year and 41% could not recall whether they
had a mammogram in the previous two years.
"This raises the question of why women may be reluctant to
undergo regular follow-up mammograms," says researcher Maria Gurevich, PhD
of Toronto's Ryerson University and Princess Margaret Hospital, in a news
release. "Our study suggests that perhaps the experience triggers
distressing memories of prior cancers."
Mammograms Induce Stress
In the study, published in the current issue of
Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers surveyed 135 women undergoing
mammography at a large cancer center in Toronto. About half of the women had
survived breast cancer, and the other half had no history of the disease.
All of the mammograms for the women indicated that they were
free of cancer. But researchers found that women with a personal history of
breast cancer associated mammograms with significant distress, even when the
results were negative.
For example, 3% to 26% of breast cancer survivors reported
stress symptoms that exceeded the threshold for acute stress compared with only
1% to 11% of women with no history of breast cancer.
Researchers say that since they had already lived an average of
6 1/2 years after their initial breast cancer diagnosis, about two-thirds of
the women could expect a favorable mammogram result. But the study showed these
women scored even higher on stress scores than women who were newly diagnosed
with the disease, as found in previous studies.
Gurevich says those findings suggest that even routine
follow-up care and good mammography results can still cause anxiety among
breast cancer survivors by triggering memories of earlier bouts with
"Compared with those with no history of breast cancer, the
meaning and experience of mammography surveillance and cancer-related medical
follow-ups are likely to be different in survivors of breast cancer, who are at
higher risk for developing new primary breast cancer or a recurrence,"
writes Gurevich and colleagues.
To Know or Not To Know
For women considering a mammogram, experts say it's a struggle
between uncertainty and fears about what might be found.