Why I Chose to NOT do a Mammogram
Last October, during breast cancer awareness month, I paid a visit to my OBGYN for a check up. This Doctor (I’ll call her DR. X) and I have a strong relationship. I have been a patient of hers since 2000, and other than her personally delivering my son in 2010, she saved my life in 2007 when she performed emergency surgery on me after my fallopian tube burst from an ectopic pregnancy. Needless to say, I trust her implicitly and value her opinion — despite our varying views on alternative medicine.
I was expecting to see her, do a routine pelvic exam and head out the door after a quick chat and a hug. Instead, after showing her photos of my 5-year-old son who she delivered, she sat me down and urged me to get a mammogram. When I asked her why there was such urgency, she replied, “Karri, you’re over 40 and I can tell you, I have seen so much more breast cancer over the last 5 years and I just don’t want you to fall through the cracks. ” I listened to her, and took what she said seriously. “But what about the new suggestions that women wait until they are 50 for a mammogram, if there is no family history?” I asked. Apparently, she and her colleagues are not on board with those new recommendations made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
I listened as she gave me all the reasons why she thought a mammogram was important for me, and then I told her about a few of my friends who had done an exam called breast thermography. I asked Dr. X if she thought I could do that instead. She replied, “honestly, I think thermography will be an important tool in the next 5 years but as of now, I don’t know anyone who could read the results properly, including myself.” I agreed that I would think about getting a mammogram, took my prescription for it on my way out, but as soon as I got home I started researching thermography and here is what I discovered:
1. There is no radiation associated with thermography.
2. After a 10 year study done in the 1970’s, Michel Gautherie, Ph.D, detailed the finding of which an abnormal breast thermography exam was a more significant indicator of a future risk for breast cancer than having a family history of it.
3. When Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D. interviewed Dr. Phillip Getson, D.O, a medical thermographer since 1982, he said it’s possible for thermography — which detects changes at a cellular level — to detect activity 8 -10 years before a mammogram could pick it up. Studies have shown that by the time a tumor has grown to a sufficient size to be recognized by a physical exam or mammography, it has likely been growing for about 7 years. According to Dr. Getson, if a breast thermography exam becomes your regular screening tool, it may be possible for a patient to still make some major lifestyle changes to transform your cells before they become cancerous.
4. Thermography is pain free.
5. Thermography is a good choice for younger breasts that tend to be denser.
After reading all of this positive information on thermography, I reached out to a couple friends of mine who had previously told me about it and they both recommended I see the same person on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
After weighing the consequences for a couple days, I decided to go ahead and do the breast thermography. I made an appointment with a no-nonsense thermographer named Sandra for the following week. I wasn’t allowed to do an upper body workout for 24 hours leading up to the exam since that could change the heat reading in my upper chest. The appointment took about 45 minutes. 15 minutes for my body to cool down to the temperature of the room, 15 minutes to take the photographs and 15 minutes to talk about what thermography is and how she would get my results to me. Fortunately my results came back normal. Unfortunately, though, thermography is not covered under insurance so it did cost me $250 and I am supposed to go back for a follow-up in about 3 months so they can have a good baseline read on my heat patterns and see how they change; after that I can go annually for a check up.
Although $250 is not insignificant to me and I’m sure many people are thinking, “I can’t afford that,” I would suggest thinking of it this way: would you rather spend $250 on an exam that is pain- and radiation- free that may give you an option of changing behavior to prevent you from getting breast cancer if some activity is discovered, or would you rather get a free mammogram screening where your breasts are flattened like a pancake between two glass plates and then shot with radiation and run the risk of false positives, false negatives, intense exposure to radiation and if something is found, your options are limited. To me the choice was clear.