Posted by William on January 26, 2012
For a full year, Musa Mayer, a wife, mother, author and patient advocate, went about her life knowing she had a mass of substantial size in one breast. She knew the lesion was there because she could feel it. And it haunted her.
Mayer wasn’t martyring herself, or committing her life to being a victim. As soon as she discovered the lump, she went to her doctor to have it diagnosed and stumbled into one of the major flaws in breast cancer diagnosis. Because her doctors could not see the lump on a mammogram, Mayer was essentially given a clean bill of health. It took an interval of 12 months, strong self-advocacy and more extensive tests for the 3.5-centimeter tumor to be found.
That experience 11 years ago has provided fuel for the brand of advocacy she practices for others today. She counsels newly diagnosed breast cancer patients through the medical maze, and inspires countless others through her books.
A Need for New Diagnostic Tools
“I know that when Breast Cancer Awareness Month was initially started it provided a way for women to understand the importance of early detection,” Mayer said, referring to the emphasis on yearly mammograms. “But I think most women who have turned on their televisions or read a newspaper or magazine in recent years have already gotten that message and it’s time to move on.”
Her own experience with mammography taught her that the low-dose diagnostic X-ray remains an imperfect tool. Mammography works best when used to diagnose the condition of post-menopausal women in whom fatty tissue has pervaded the breast. In premenopausal women, such as Mayer when she found her lump, dense glandular tissue can make a tumor difficult, if not impossible to see. Even some post-menopausal women on hormone replacement therapy, Mayer points out, may have denser tissue that can obscure a tumor. Glandular tissue appears white and opaque on a mammogram compared with the grayish color of fat. Tumors also appear white.
What women need, Mayer says, are better diagnostic tools and more precise information about the state of breast cancer diagnosis. Mammography, she underscored, is incapable of pinpointing tumors in all women.
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