When mammograms are wrong

Lumps are not there purely for decoration

June, and for some reason unbeknownst to me I felt the side of my right breast closest to my armpit.  I really don't know what made me touch my breast.  It's not something I do often and I guess I've always been quite slack about doing breast checks on myself.  When you're in your early forties, it's not something you consider doing.  It's not like you wake up and say to yourself, "I think I'll feel my breast today."  Anyway, on this particular morning, I felt a lump the size of a grape.  I could squeeze it between my fingers.  I decided to wait a week or two to see if it just disappeared by itself.  It didn't.  In fact, because I was aware of the lump and had taken to touching it and squeezing it at any opportunity, it had begun to get a little painful.  Still, I wasn't too concerned but went to see my GP anyway.  He explained that I just had a breast infection and gave me a course of antibiotics.

July, antibiotics finished, lump still there.  I continued to monitor it by touching it once a week to see if it was still there.

November, my son fell through a window at school and while visiting the nurse at the GP to get my son's stitches taken out from the bad cut in his arm, I happened to mention the lump in my breast.  The nurse donned a set of latex gloves and felt my breast.  "Hmm," she said, "Doesn't feel good.  Have you had the doctor check it out yet?"  I explained that the doctor had said it was just a breast infection and had given me antibiotics.  "When it didn't go away after the antibiotics, what did you do about it?" she asked impatiently.  My response was to shrug indifferently.  "I suggest you set up an appointment with the woman doctor in the practice.  Immediately." she added firmly.

End of November, and I met with the woman doctor.  She felt the lump in my breast and then did what the other GP hadn't done.  Asked about whether or not I had a family history of breast cancer.  "My maternal grandmother had breast cancer and had a mastectomy in her right breast," I answered, beginning to feel a bit nervous about my lump.  The lady doctor looked at me intently and suggested that we set up an immediate mammogram and ultrasound at the nearby hospital where they had a breast clinic.

Beginning of December, living in a foreign country with no family to go with me as support, and my pride too full to ask a friend for help, I made my way to the breast clinic for a mammogram.  It was a shock when the mammogram revealed nothing!  Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.  The technician was surprised as they could manually feel the lump.  The ultrasound showed slightly thickened tissue in the area of the lump, but nothing alarming.  The breast specialist then saw me and was confused by the results of the mammogram, as he could feel the lump.  "Strange, very strange," he murmured as he squeezed my nipple and a strange looking fluid came out.  "Ah, this is good news," he nodded his head with a smile on his face, "At least we know you definitely don't have cancer.  Duct ecstacia.  You have a blocked duct.  Something left over from breast feeding.  It won't go away by itself, we have to perform a ductectomy and remove the duct.  Very simple procedure, you come into hospital first thing in the morning, and go in for a little surgery under general anaethetic and you go home a couple of hours later."  I nearly burst into tears with relief.  After my appointment with the lady doctor at the GP's practice, I'd been imagining all kinds of worst case scenarios.

10th December, up bright and early for a routine procedure.  No anxiety or trepidations, after all, the doctor had said that it was quite common in women who had breastfed their babies.

20th December, the wound appears to be quite a bit bigger than what they said it would be and does not appear to be healing.

24th December, the day before Christmas and I head to the breast clinic for them to check the dressings and wound from my op and give me the results from the pathology done on the blocked duct they removed.  I wait and wait, but nobody seems to be coming into the consulting room I've been sitting in for 45 minutes already.  Flipping through magazines, I wonder what's taking them so long and I hear the breast nurse say to the doctor outside the consulting room, "Poor girl, how are we going to tell her?  She's still so young."  I shake my head in sorrow thinking about some poor girl who's about to get some bad news.  About ten minutes later, the breast specialist arrives with the breast nurse.  He sits down and puts a box of tissues in front of me.  I stare down at the box of tissues and look quizzically at the nurse for some kind of explanation.  She slowly shakes her head from side to side and pats me on my shoulder.  "I'm afraid I have some bad news.  When we opened your breast to remove the lump we found the inside was all tumour and we couldn't get clear margins.  The pathology shows that you have two kinds of cancer.  I'm afraid that there is only one solution to this problem.  We have to tackle it aggressively and remove your breast.  You need to have a full mastectomy.  I realise that you are still so young..."

Increduously I stare at the specialist, and then the relief of what he's just said dawns on me.  "Oh thank God," I laugh, "You've got the wrong person, cause I'm not young.  I'm very, very old."

"We don't make mistakes like that," said the doctor solemnly, "43 is actually considered young for this kind of cancer.  We've managed to schedule a date for the mastectomy, 19th January.  The breast nurse will fill you in on all the arrangements.  Merry Christmas."  My jaw dropped open in shock as the doctor dropped his bombshell and hastily left the room.  He didn't have much of a bedside manner and obviously tried to avoid being there when the woman fell apart after receiving the news.  The breast nurse tried to comfort me as I started to sob.  Just me and my kids, no family, alone.  The day before Christmas.  My breasts had always been the one good thing about my body, the one body part I was most proud of.

The 8 and 3/4 hour operation was horrible but worth it.  I elected to have a tram flap reconstruction done at the same time.  That means that they cut a section of tummy muscle and flip it upward to fill your empty breast skin, after they have removed all your breast tissue.  I had adverse reactions to the morphine, MRSA set in and I ended up having four operations on my breast and tummy scar that year.  The good news is that they got out all the cancer.  I didn't need chemo or radiation treatment.  However, I have to say that I am very concerned that both the mammogram and ultrasound didn't pick up anything untoward.  I have to ask myself, why such sophisticated detection methods failed to pick up the cancer. I can't be the only one.  There have to be other women out there who have had mammograms and the cancer wasn't detected.  And strangely, my lump that had resulted in me getting my breast checked actually had nothing to do with the cancer.  It was just a coincidence.  The message I want to give all women out there is, get your breasts checked regularly.  Take any lump or anything that is strange about your breasts seriously.  Make sure that the mammogram is taken properly and carefully checked.  Breast cancer, if left, can be fatal.

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Comments 33 comments

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Great hub and important message! I'd like to point out that you can have some forms of breast cancer and not have a lump. I had Invasive Breast Cancer (IBC) and had it not been for a routine mammogram it would not have been detected. You and I are the lucky ones who caught it in time and didn't have to go through chemo or radiation.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

You are lucky that the mammogram picked it up. I wonder how many cancers are not picked up by mammograms?

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Apparently a large number according to one oncologist I spoke with.

The Next Write profile image

The Next Write 7 years ago

Thanks for your hub and words of encouragement. My mother has survived two bouts of very aggressive breast cancer. The first time 16 lymph nodes were affected! Doctors are amazed she is still around but she is and is doing excellent!

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

It is alarming that many women think they are doing the right thing by having mammograms, and then the mammograms show it's all clear when the cancer is quietly sitting there and spreading. Frightening, actually

It is encouraging that when breast cancer is diagnosed, that doctors are managing to cure more patients than in previous years. Hope your mum continues to do well!

Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

useful hub

AshleyNikole profile image

AshleyNikole 7 years ago from Virginia

It is very tyipical for guys to be bossy and dominate, when comes to dating and moms. Just reassure him things wont change between you two, the love with remain the same no matter what.

Thank you for the comment and your welcome for answeing your hub. Please let me know if have any questions or concerns. I would love to help, and I wish you the best of luck with your situation. Thanks, Ashley

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks, Ashley! And welcome to Hubpages!

AshleyNikole profile image

AshleyNikole 7 years ago from Virginia

This is a very good article. My mother just found out she is breast cancer free. The cut her open and took a piece of tissue out and tested it they said it wasn't cancer. I feel not so sure about it though. i have this feeling she does. I dont want her too but I think she does. The doctor said it wasn't and he knows alot more then me, so I will leave it at that. Is that the right thing to do?

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Sometimes our gut feelings might be right. But doctors don't generally listen to our gut feelings, it's their gut feelings they listen to. In my case, I tried not to think about it and when the doctor told me it definitely wasn't cancer, I was so relieved I believed him instantly. I suppose that's why it was such a shock when it turned out that it was.

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 7 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

Oh Cindy, What an ordeal. But you're here, you're smiling in your avatar picture, and you've obviously got a lot of life and spunk left in you, as evidenced by your writings here on HP. I am so sorry this happened to you. How lucky that it turned out as "well" as it did and that you didn't need chemo or radiation. I always try to look on the "it could have been worse" side of every situation.

I would be honored to link to this hub on my "Songs of Triumph" hub. Thank you for sharing. MM

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Hi MM, yeah, takes more than that to kill me, and two years after that, they found my thyroid was bigger than my heart, covered in tumours and constricting my trachea, so yeah, guess the big man upstairs still has plans for me!

gjcody profile image

gjcody 7 years ago

Good information for all of us to read.  I am glad you took charge finally ...My best to your success ...and for a very long and healthy life.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks GJ!

Elynjo profile image

Elynjo 7 years ago from Sin City

I have a friend she will undergo breast surgery on Wednesday. I will print this hub and have her read it for encouragement. Thanks cindy.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Elynjo, please give your friend my love and tell her that I'll be thinking of her!

Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

There is very mixed evidence that mammograms are effective in younger woman (ie under 50 )because the breast tissue is still dense and hard to see thru. There is a better system but its not currently available in NZ as far as I know - so I have so far resisted having a mammogram.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Yeah, it's like putting your breats into a sandwich toaster thing

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

This is a good hub Cindyvine. Sometimes things are scary so we try to ignore them, and breast cancer is one of those things. A good friend of mine died last October after battling cancer for four years. The cancer started as a breast lump, but even after a mastectomy they failed to stop it's progress. Later she was found to have cervical cancer too, and of course this is often a 'silent' cancer with few symptoms. Poor girl went through so much with all the different treatments, but always remained so positive. We all need to be aware of these things, and how important it is to check any abnormalities as soon as we find them. If my friend had gone to the doctor sooner she might still be here, and I'm so glad that your (benign) lump led you to discover your problem before things got out of hand.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks Amanda, sorry to hear about your friend!

IslandVoice profile image

IslandVoice 7 years ago from Hawaii

My sister had both breasts removed (about 10 years interval), and is cancer free. I had a bad experience with a lady ObGyne, who after examining my breast said i needed an immediate operation, which made me panic. I saw 2 other doctors, only to find out i was merely ovulating! I admire you and your courage. This is one of the best and most toucing hub i've read.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Thanks Islandvoice! I'm pleased that yours was only a false alarm. I don't wish breast cancer on anybody!

Kim Garcia 7 years ago

Wow!!! Bless you for posting this Hub. I've been ignoring lumps in my breast for years as my OBGYN says that they are only Fibroid tumors. Benign. New lumps on my right breast have materialized, but he has led me to believe that they are just fibroids. Your message has now shed more light on this matter, and has given me reason to question. I think it is time for another exam.

Thank you for sharing your story. Peace ~ K

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Kim, I would check out any lump, despite what the doctors say. Get a fine needle biopsy done on them. Good luck!

wordscribe41 7 years ago

Wow, what a scary story. I'm going through an odd time with mammograms. They keep calling me back, are "watching an area" in my right breast. They've do ultrasounds, then ask me to come back. Last time they said to come back in 5 months for another ultrasound, and then the month after for a regular mammogram. Weird. Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad you're okay...

kim carlson profile image

kim carlson 6 years ago from bonner,montana

thank-you so much for shareing your story,, maybe you can read my hub and see what you think help me mak eit better

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Will do, Kim

creed 5 years ago

Just received a letter recommending a magnification mammogram after my regular mammogram last week. Have to say it has freaked me out. Always have gotten annual mammograms which have been normal, also clinical exams by my gyn. Has anyone experienced this. Waiting for a call to schedule another appt.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Hi Creed

I would say they spotted something that needs a closer look. It might still prove to be nothing, but is definitely worth following through. Good luck!

lyndaF 5 years ago

Hi, just found this after typing in Mammograms that are wrong on google. I am having a massectomy tomorrow after getting the all clear from a mammagram I had at the end of May this year. My husband felt the lump a couple of weeks later. I convinced my self that the mammogram had injured me some how because it was so painful when the woman clamped my right breast. So I ignored it. In september I called in to see the nurse at my doctors, just for reassurance that it was nothing to worry about. My lump is 2.5 inches long! To cut a longstory short. my lymph nodes are infected too so everything is coming off and out tomorrow. I'm also having reconstruction at the same time. My lump was never small, it just seemed to appear big.My specialist said not every cancer is detected by the mammagram and people make mistakes! Nota very good advert for mammograms ! I would like to find out why mine didn't show up but don't know where to start.

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Hi Lynda, your story sounds similar to mine. The second time I got breast cancer, the breast specialist picked it up quickly (in my other breast). He said that his staff only look at breasts that's why they pick up things often missed by radiologists who look at breasts, broken bones, legs, necks etc.

barbie 5 years ago

i just had mammoagram after the doctor detected something there they didn't see anything i wonder why

cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine Author

Barbie if the doctor detected something and the mammogram didn't show it, I'd insist on having an ultrasound as well.

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