In this world of constantly evolving medical marvels, it’s hard to think that procedures designed to save our lives could potentially take them. There are thousands of tests that can be performed to detect health issues across every part of our bodies. Some are newer, while others just offer a more modern twist on an old screening method. Radiology is one of those testing areas that has evolved over time, especially in the area of mammography.
Mammograms are a fairly non-invasive way to detect breast cancer, and women are advised to get one done every single year. In short, for decades women have undergone annual x-rays exposing them to potentially harmful radiation. In general, during the performance of x-rays of your teeth, or a potential broken bone, dental or medical professionals throw that heavy apron over you to protect against radiation exposure because it’s been proven that excessive exposure can cause cancer. If they failed to take proper safety precautions, it could lead to a medical malpractice claim. So, why don’t women receive similar protection from mammography?
The basics of mammography
Detecting breast cancer as early as possible is the primary goal of every individual — men and women. How that happens has pretty much always come down to two strategies: self-examination and the mammogram. Depending upon your individual risk factors, you may start annual testing much earlier than other individuals.
There are three forms of mammography:
- Digital mammography. the x-ray image is electronically converted into pictures of the breast similar to digital photography while using a lower dose of radiation.
- Computer-aided detection (CAD). This system searches and highlights digitized images for abnormalities such as density, mass, or calcification that could be red flags for cancer.
- Breast tomosynthesis. This is the newer 3-D imaging system that allows the breast to be seen from various angles using a reconstruction of multiple images.
Generally, during the procedure, you remove all clothing and jewelry from your waist up, are given a cloth gown that opens from the front, and your breasts are pressed between two plates, one at a time, as you stand still and breathless while the image is taken. Meanwhile, the technician stands behind a barrier for protection as the x-ray is taken.
Mammogram does pose a risk of cancer
The more exposure you have to radiation, the higher your risk is for cancer to form. The American College of Radiology recommends receiving no more than 100 mSv (millisievert) of radioactivity over your lifetime, which amounts to about 25 CT scans. A 3-D mammogram averages about .4 mSv. When you take into account dental visits, broken bones, CT scans or other images to diagnose medical problems throughout your life, mammograms could be chewing up a lot of that radiation limit.
Most women begin having mammography done at age 40 and it is recommended they continue until age 75. That’s a minimum of 35 sessions of radiation exposure, not counting any inconclusive results that require another visit.
The lifetime attributable risk of radiation-induced cancer for someone exposed at 40 years of age to a two-view digital mammogram is one in 100,000 cases. That’s potentially 1,667 women per year at risk for cancer induced by mammogram in the United States, and generally speaking, no basic precautions are taken to reduce the odds.
Is there an alternative to traditional mammogram?
The traditional mammogram is still the preferred method for radiologists, but there are other options that may spare you unnecessary radiation exposure:
- Ultrasound. While it is not the first choice for detecting and diagnosing breast cancer, ultrasound is certainly a technology that has been found useful as a follow-up screening tool. It is particularly helpful where dense breast tissue presents a problem in obtaining thorough images. As a bonus, ultrasound does not subject the patient to radiation that comes with other imaging procedures.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Another imaging resource that eliminates the need to expose you to radiation is the MRI. Certain candidates, such as those with BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes have had much better success in catching breast cancer before it has progressed too far. In fact, the MRI detected 92.3% of cancers where the typical mammogram only caught 30.8%. When talking about saving lives, that’s an significant margin of error.
Technology can make our lives easier and safer. When it has the opposite effect in a medical setting, the effects can be devastating. We trust medical professionals to know what’s best for us and to make procedures and tests as safe as possible to minimize risk. After all, the patient is the one who ultimately suffers the consequences.
If you or a loved one has been injured due to negligent medical advice or a faulty procedure, our caring Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP will investigate your claim and help you hold the hospital or doctor responsible for the harm you have suffered. Schedule your free case evaluation today by calling our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page to share your experience.
One of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Jeff Harris is an award-winning litigator who handles high-profile, complex cases across a wide variety of practice areas. He excels at securing justice for clients who have been seriously injured or killed, holding responsible parties accountable for their actions as well as their negligence.
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