The Widdershins

Feminist Monday: Would Men Accept this Kind of Preventive Care?

Posted on: July 20, 2015

***WARNING: This post is about mammograms, and contains many references to female breasts.
If you are not comfortable with either or both of these, please do not read further. ***

Good afternoon, Widdershins. Today, I’m going to take a break from political coverage, and share a recent experience I had while take care of my scary lady parts.

In January, I had my first mammogram. As a woman of 47 (soon to be 48) whose mother tragically died of breast cancer at the age of 54, I have been gently and lovingly pressured by my friends to start doing this yearly, “just in case.” So, I finally sucked it up and went through with it. I felt the smug satisfaction of the virtuous as I had my breasts smashed flat and x-rayed from every conceivable angle. Said satisfaction even managed to overcome the indignity and pain I suffered, but not the twinge of worry when the tech told me that because I had never had one before, it was likely I’d get called back for a follow-up visit. “Don’t freak out,” she told me. “It will most likely be precautionary.”

Sure enough, I received a letter a week or so later, telling me that I had something that maybe, possibly could be a concern. “A copy of this letter has been sent to your gynecologist,” the letter went on, “who will call you and explain what the concern is, and what further examinations you’ll need.” Easier said than done – it took almost a month for the hospital to send my doctor the information she needed, and then another week or so before we spoke and she explained what it was. “I’m 99% sure it’s nothing,” she said, “but you should go back. Just in case.”

Well, after a couple of failed attempts, I finally got an appointment that worked with my schedule. Even though my foot is broken, I have some mobility and can drive short distances, so last Friday, off I limped to get my two follow-ups – an ultrasound and a more focused set of x-rays. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Au contraire. I arrived at the hospital about a half hour early, as requested. I checked in and was kept waiting until about twenty minutes past my appointment time. I was then brought into the room by the technician, who began haranguing me about “waiting so long” to schedule my follow-up. I told her that I couldn’t have come earlier, but she interrupted me and started arguing with me. I said, “Wait a minute. Are you seriously stepping up to me because you think I could have come here earlier, based on nothing?!” This stopped her verbal attacks, but she took her nastiness out on my left breast, contorting and smashing it in more ways than I thought possible. It was quite painful and took almost 45 minutes. I staggered back to the waiting room to await the ultrasound. “Well,” I thought, “I’ve had ultrasounds before and they didn’t hurt. This is probably going to be fine.”

Wrong again! The ultrasound technician pressed hard and repeatedly on my left breast in just the areas that had been flattened and manipulated by the mammograms. This took about 15 minutes. She then called in the doctor, who did the same for about 20 minutes. After the doctor reviewed the pictures, she then came back and told me she felt reasonably confident that what she was seeing was scar tissue from my breast reduction, especially since it hadn’t grown for six months. But, since she didn’t have a baseline from which to work, she wanted me to have more x-rays. So, back I went to the kind and gentle mammogram tech, who continued gleefully and unapologetically torturing my poor beleaguered boob for another 15 minutes.  Finally the doctor was satisfied, and I gingerly strapped on my bra and, in great discomfort, went back home to work.

The whole set of procedures had taken about two hours. Mentally and physically, I had experienced stress that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. And why? “Just in case.” “It’s precautionary.””Can’t be too careful.” To add insult to injury, I was told that I might also be asked to get a biopsy. Yes, they want to slice into my breast, folks. All of this is happening to me despite the fact that THERE IS NOT A F*CKING THING WRONG WITH ME. It would be more than a coincidence for this microscopic piece of scar tissue, in the exact location of my surgery, to be the spot where cancer develops (especially a cancer that doesn’t grow, at all, in over six months). Everyone acknowledges this, from my personal doctor to the techs and doctor at the hospital – but yet, because this is the health paradigm we have now developed, common sense no longer applies.

Well, I can’t help wondering why this type of “preventive care” is deemed necessary for women, why we are terrified, guilted and shamed if we don’t put ourselves through it. “Early detection saves lives,” we’re told. But there is mounting evidence that this may not be true.

The rationale behind screening the general population is that by identifying and treating cancer early, even before it can be felt, treatments will be more effective and easier to bear. For many people this idea makes intuitive sense: surely the earlier something is caught, the better.

Yet the latest study in The BMJ adds to the evidence from a number of studies finding little benefit to routinely screening healthy middle-aged women at average risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, these same studies have found there are significant harms to aggressively screening the general population for cancer.

The recent Canadian study, involving 90,000 women followed over 25 years in a randomized trial, found that efforts to find breast cancers before they could be felt as a lump in the breast, using screening mammography, did not lead to lower death rates for average-risk women in their 40s and 50s. At the same time, around one in five of the cancers that were found through screening would not have required treatment were it not for the mammogram: resulting in overdiagnosis and overtreatment as these women underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to treat non-life threatening cancers.

All I can say is, I have personally known three women who had cancer (two of them had breast cancer), and believe me, they all knew something was wrong. My mother had a lump for 20 years and did nothing about it…she knew it might be cancerous. My sister-in-law waited till her breast was deformed before seeking treatment. Screening wouldn’t have helped these women – only earlier treatment, which they weren’t open to, could have saved their lives. I am not saying all cancer is symptomatic, and I am not a doctor, but I’m convinced that if I were sick, I’d feel it somehow. I’m also convinced that what these screenings are doing is not just unnecessary, but potentially harmful.

I can’t help wondering whether if men were told that, if every year they didn’t get their balls and p*nises smashed repeatedly and x-rayed, they could get testicular cancer and die. Somehow, I doubt this would either be prescribed for them, or accepted by the medical community in general as either helpful, or necessary.

But maybe I’m just using that d*mn common sense again, and not believing that perky little videos like the one below tell the whole story any more.

This is an open thread.

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19 Responses to "Feminist Monday: Would Men Accept this Kind of Preventive Care?"

Wow. Brace yourselves, Widdershins, she’s a-gonna talk some medical here:

Your treatment was an abomination. As a health care professional, no matter when we think someone should have presented themselves for follow-up, it just isn’t our job to whale out on them. Secondly, I assure you that, had your doc thought that you had the Big C, he would have been vastly more insistent that you be followed immediately. Thirdly, I am onboard with the sonogram, but the follow-up mammogram for “baseline” is iffy at best. “Baseline” was the six months ago films – these are purely repeat films. Maybe they did not want to have to drag you back down there in another few months, or maybe it was academic curiosity.

As far as cancers go, many are slow to grow. That said, there are a few aggressive cancers that we’re better off for knowing about from jump. They are the outliers, to be certain, and are in some respects easier to treat if caught early. For the rest, they grow slowly enough to not outpace the lump, so to speak.

The women who have to be followed more closely are the ones with fibrocystic diease, as lumps can be hard to differentiate, plus cancers can lurk behind/beneath the fibrocystic masses.

I’m sorry that you had such a bad experience.

Thanks Chat, I was hoping you’d weigh in. 😊 I appreciate your feedback.

I truly hope this isn’t how most women experience the screening procedures.

I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. As Chat said, being treated professionally by the personnel would have solved that issue — that is a management issue not a medical one.

For the record, I don’t have boobs — never will, but breast cancer has been a focus of the better part of my adult life. A close friend I loved dearly (as a rule I don’t say that often) died from breast cancer and it was just as you say. She had no indicators, it was just there one morning in the shower, hadn’t been there the month before, and had not been caught in any screenings.

Long, long story short — she died after a valiant battle that included MD Anderson, clinical trials, and finally, experimental treatment at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. The pain was excruciatingly long and protracted.

As a guy I don’t know the pain associated with the screenings, what I do know is this: Encourage those you love to do exactly what they feel is right, but let them know in no uncertain terms they are loved and supported in their every decision. That’s all a guy can do other than sit in a waiting room reading old magazines and waiting.

Actually, men do get breast cancer, and when they do it’s tough to treat. For example, it’s easier to treat hormone-receptive tumor, which recede when you give testosterone. Sadly, as men already have large doses of testosterone, no such tumor would develop, so the forms of cancer that they get are tricky. Further, men just don’t look for breast masses, even though they are generally much easier to find.

Prolix, MD Anderson is exactly where I would be if I were to need cancer therapy. Sounds like your friend just had one of those tumors……..

I have been seriously trying to “relax and exhale” in daily things and not get so worked up about *stuff*. However, that would have come to a screeching halt had I been treated like you were MB. There is no call for that type of attitude.

The only experience I’ve had with mammograms was taking the momster for her tests. She was not, uh, well endowed so I would have thought it would not be a big deal or painful…but she said it was. She had that fibrocystic thing so she had a fair number of biopsies done “to be safe”.

Prolix, don’t forget that we guys are supposed to do a self check in certain areas periodically too.

@4, that is exactly what the doctors kept saying until the metastasis in the brain, liver, kidneys, and lungs. It was one front after another. Back in the 80s, she was the first woman in the country to have interferon and interleukin treatment for breast cancer or so they said.

We were at Anderson, but Baptist was the only place approved at the time for conducting the interleukin therapy in conjunction with the NIH.

I guess I really do wonder if all this hysteria about mammograms, and the painful course of screenings, is something that would ever be accepted by a man if applied to his scary man parts. Something tells me the answer is a big no, but I would love to hear from our male Widdershins on this one.

@8: Welllll……we’re supposed to do a scrotal check and I’m not even sure how often. I would suppose that if I felt something like a lump in a testicle I would tell the doctor and I don’t even know what they do from there.

So I just checked and it appears an ultrasound of the scrotum would be the next level. And then further from there if something seems out of whack.

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/detailedguide/testicular-cancer-diagnosis

It doesn’t look like there is a special torture device for the testes like women have for a mammogram.

MB, I’m so sorry you had to go through this awful experience. (( HUGS )) Unfortunately, I know other women who have similar stories to tell.

I have never had a mammogram. Every time a doctor suggests I get one, I refuse. I already have an inoperable brain tumor. If I develop breast cancer, there’s no way I would survive the treatment so I just don’t want to know. That is my choice; no doctor will convince me otherwise.

As women, I think it is important to take control of our own health care as much as possible. We always have the right to say no, the right to second ( or third or fourth ) opinions, and the right to walk out the door.

Well said Beata.

@7: We have made some progress since then. Lots of new agents out there, although many of the ones used while I was in nursing school are still in play.

That is one awful video, btw. There is something really insulting about the perkiness of it. Is there a similar upbeat video of shiny happy people dancing around promoting prostate exams?

The short answer to your burning question is “Hell, no.” Remember my theory that if men needed BCP they would be sold in vending machines and be bacon-flavored?

Heh, great comments all. Beata, hugging you right back. {{Beata}} I think what you said is so important. Women need to take control of their health choices, pink perky gloves notwithstanding. I am quite sure that you are doing the right thing for yourself by not having a mammogram, and believe me, I am considering never doing it again.

@8, here are my two cents and as usual, I’m going to try and draw too fine a distinction, so I’ll start here — NO, if it were “men scary parts” being poked and prodded it would be different, but here’s the distinction — they would be different because men would know what it felt like to be poked and prodded in and around their scary parts.

You see men have no idea about what it feels like to have a mammogram, but guess what, men, by and large, designed the protocols associated with the screenings. They designed the machines. They engineered them. And most important of all, men don’t have the emotional intelligence to care about “not knowing” how dehumanizing and painful the process is — or at least most don’t.

That is why Title IX and STEM education focusing on girls is so important. Imagine what the mammogram would have been like if women had been in the medical hierarchy or the engineering hierarchy? Needless to say, it would be nothing like it is.

@10, Beata, you are 100% right — more people would be well-served to take your advice. Having the strength you have is a rare commodity too few people enjoy.

Beata@13: I haven’t seen such a video but we do have this:

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……..(‘(…´…´…. ¯~/’…’)
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What Prolix said @17.

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