It’s time for my yearly mammogram. But the imaging center called to say they’re only performing “essential” examinations during the COVID pandemic. I’ll admit it, I usually dread coming in for my mammogram, but now I’m worried about waiting. How do I know if my examination is essential, or if it’s safer to wait until this crisis has passed?
“Missing the Squishing”
These are stressful times. On top of worrying about how the COVID-19 virus could impact their health and the health of their loved ones, many people are also worried about all the things in their lives that are being put on hold—including routine medical appointments.
Here’s what you need to know:
There are two different kinds of mammograms. “Screening” mammograms are for women who are not having any current breast problems. Regular screening for breast cancer is an essential part of being proactive about your health. And it’s understandable that you don’t want to delay your appointment. But right now, if you are not having any breast-related symptoms, it’s more important to protect your health by staying home and staying away from other people. In other words, your mammogram can wait.
The other kind of mammogram is considered “diagnostic,” which is for patients who are having a breast problem. If you are experiencing a new symptom, such as a lump, pain in one part of the breast, skin changes, or nipple discharge, you should talk to your doctor. In such cases, it may be advisable to have your testing now, rather than waiting—I recommend you call your physician to discuss. Additionally, if you have any signs of infection in the breast (such as redness, warmth, swelling, and pain) you should talk to your doctor right away.
However, just because you may have to postpone your mammogram, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon practicing breast health. The most important thing you can do is be aware of your own body—knowing what’s normal for you helps you and your doctor to recognize changes as they occur. Not all breast cancers cause a lump—changes in the shape of the breast, dimpling or puckering, and pulling in of the nipple can all be signs of a problem. Let your doctor know if you notice any of these.
Don’t let social distancing get in the way of continuing your healthy habits. Keep exercising, eating a healthy diet, and minimizing alcohol use, which will all promote breast (and general) health.
Finally, many of us are finding that we have more time in our days to fill than usual. Take this as an opportunity to educate yourself. Some things to consider:
- If you have dense breasts (almost half of us do!), you are at increased risk for developing breast cancer. And mammograms of dense breasts are harder to read. So if your last mammogram report says that you have dense breasts, talk to your doctor about having breast ultrasound in addition to mammography at your next screening.
- Investigate your family history of breast cancer and other types of cancers, so that you are prepared to discuss your risk factors with your doctor during your next office visit. Free breast cancer risk calculators are available online to help you better understand your risk level. If you are in a high risk category, you may want to consider requesting a breast MRI in addition to mammography, or possibly genetic testing.
Bottom line: Call your doctor if you have new symptoms. But otherwise, until this crisis passes, you are doing the most important thing for your health and the health of others by staying at home.
Subscribe here to receive alerts for all things coronavirus and more from The Well.