Mammograms Can Be More Stressful Than Cancer
Stresses Over Mammography Plague Breast Cancer Survivors
To Know or Not To Know continued...
"The problem with mammograms and doing breast self-exams or
clinical exams is the only thing you're looking for is bad news," says Bev
Parker, director of the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization hotline.
"I think we all want to shy away from that."
But by undergoing annual breast cancer screening, Parker says
women can know that they're safe for another year.
Wendy Mason, helpline manager for the Susan G. Komen Breast
Cancer Foundation, agrees and says uncertainty can be much more stressful than
the mammogram itself.
"The not knowing is more bothersome to a lot of the women
because if they know what's wrong, at that point they can make plans for next
steps and start actively doing something -- whether it's treatment or
follow-up," Mason tells WebMD. "I think the not knowing causes a lot
more sleepless nights."
Mason says that although breast cancer survivors may have a
higher level of anxiety about mammograms, they are also keenly aware of the
risks of not getting one.
"They wouldn't consider not going for a mammogram because
they know that early detection is going to give them the best chance for
successful treatment," says Mason.
Although every breast cancer case is different, Mason says the
risk of cancer recurrence is greatest within the first two years after
diagnosis and that risk decrease with time. Women are considered breast cancer
free if no new or recurrent cancers are found within five years after their
Taking the Stress Out of Mammograms
The study also found that support from doctors, friends, and
family plays an important role in mediating the stress women feel about
Strong support from their doctor reduced stress among women who
never had cancer, but increased stress levels among women with a history of
breast cancer. Researchers say that association doesn't necessarily mean that
the doctors caused their patients' symptoms, but the patients' distress may
have stimulated the doctors' concern.
Mason says that finding underscores the point that open
communication between the doctor and patient is critical to easing women's
fears about breast cancer screening.
Cheryl Perkins, MD, senior clinical advisor at the Komen
Foundation says asking questions at the time a mammogram is scheduled can help
allay women's fears up front. Those questions should include:
- What can you expect during the procedure itself?
- What is the follow-up plan?
- How much time is required to receive your results?
- How accurate are those results likely to be? What is the risk of a
- What would be done depending on those results?
For family and friends of women who are fearful about a
mammogram, Parker says it's important to listen and remind them of the positive
side of breast cancer screening.