A mammogram is a specialized x-ray scan of the breasts used to look for breast cancer. It’s currently the best screening test to look for signs of early breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society’s guidelines for mammograms recommend that women:
• Ages 40-44 should have the option to start having mammograms for breast cancer screening.
• Ages 45-54 should have a mammogram every year.
• Ages 55 and older could switch to mammograms every other year, or could continue to have one annually.
It’s usually a responsibility of x-ray techs to perform mammograms in a hospital or office setting. You can help make sure you get a good quality study by telling the tech about any breast changes or problems that you’ve experienced. It’s also important to share with the tech if you’ve been breast-feeding or have implants.
The danger of false negatives
As much as everyone’s heard about mammograms, it’s important to know that they aren’t completely accurate.
Mammograms sometimes come back with false-negative results, meaning that they’re interpreted as normal even if breast cancer is present. Other mammograms have false-positive results, meaning they’re interpreted as showing cancer, even though there’s no cancer in the breast.
Of these two false results, false-positive mammograms typically result in additional workup that end in a finding that there’s no cancer. On the other hand, a false-negative mammogram can be devastating, leading to a significant delay in diagnosis and treatment, which can sometimes lead to death.
One OB/GYN described the problem of misdiagnosing a mammogram—a false-negative—in particularly unsettling terms. At a national OB/GYN conference, Dr. Kenneth Kern said, “It’s almost random whether you will see something or not on a mammogram for a person under 50.”
Don’t ignore concerning signs
Some studies reveal that about three-fourths of breast-cancer medical malpractice lawsuits involve some surprising facts. In those suits, a physician was able to feel a new breast mass, but didn’t follow up after a negative mammogram. Sadly, in those cases, a negative mammogram ended up being bogus.
There are a lot of reasons that contribute to mammogram false negatives, including technological limitations, poor technique of the x-ray tech, small or unusually-shaped masses, and interpretation error by the radiologist. Jennifer Diaz, RN, a legal nurse consultant who commented on this article, added another reason for false-positives: Inflammatory breast cancer isn't detected on mammograms.
Many experts think that it’s too risky for OB/GYN doctors to rely on a negative mammogram when the woman has a breast mass. In fact, the standard of care requires a workup that looks a lot like what’s expected after a positive mammogram. Doctors should consider a follow-up mammogram, a breast ultrasound, a breast MRI, or a biopsy.
All of these tests, except the biopsy, are non-invasive. Most of the time, biopsies are done with a needle, which is used to aspirate or pull out a small amount of tissue from the concerning area.
Based on my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer and handling cancer misdiagnosis cases, I recommend that women speak up and ask questions when it comes to breast cancer care. If you’ve noticed a new lump in your breast, talk to your doctor about your concern before relying on a negative mammogram.
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If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by hospital or medical care, then the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.