The pandemic has caused many of us to put a lot of things on hold. Maybe you’re still reluctant to travel, still cautious around high-risk friends or family, or think twice about going to traditionally crowded places. But getting your annual mammogram shouldn’t be on your list of things that can wait.
While you may have some apprehension about heading into your doctor’s office or imaging center, especially as the delta variant of the coronavirus has caused cases to rise again in North Texas, putting off vital health screenings could be doing more harm than good.
No one understands your apprehension more than the medical community, says Amelia Tower, D.O., FACOS, a breast surgical oncologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth and at Texas Health Breast Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. In fact, she says one of the more frequent questions she gets asked right now by both patients, colleagues and friends alike is ‘But is it safe to go get a mammogram now?’
“The answer to that question is, ‘Yes,’ she says. “In fact, it may be safer now to get a mammogram than ever before when you consider the policies and protocols we have in place.”
We sat down with Tower to discuss why it’s important not to put off your annual screenings, especially a mammogram, and policies in place to keep you safe.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Some decisions are easier than others, but when it comes to your health, you may be on the fence. Tower knows that and understands it, but she notes that putting off your mammogram and/or annual exam can be potentially devastating.
“We have known for decades that mammograms save lives and are crucial for our health maintenance,” she explains. “Since COVID-19, mammograms have been delayed because of patient apprehension surrounding COVID and rescheduling from the 2020 stay-at-home orders. Although delaying a screening for a month or two may not have a significant effect, pushing it out six months or longer could do you more harm than good.”
The ultimate impact of delaying a mammogram is different for every person, Tower adds, but if cancer goes undetected, it’s possible that a delay in getting diagnosed could lead to worsening of the cancer, leading to a higher stage of disease and less treatment options when eventually diagnosed.
Mammography is designed to detect breast cancer before it can be felt during a physical exam and before it begins could possibly spread. That is why regular mammograms are important so that your physician can identify any change year after year.
Can I Choose a Virtual Option Instead?
At the beginning of the pandemic, your physician’s office may have adopted Virtual Visits as a means to treat patients. But even now that many offices have expanded their policies to see patients again for in-person appointments, chances are your provider still has telehealth as an option for some exams.
Unfortunately, there is no virtual option for a mammogram, and your physician will need to perform an annual clinical breast exam in person.
So, what can I expect when I head in?
“To better protect our patients, staff, and our community, many changes have been made in our work spaces and processes at Texas Health Breast Specialists and at the Breast Centers at all THR campuses to facilitate the safe performance of annual clinical breast exams and mammograms,” Tower says.
This includes spacing out patient appointment times to limit crowding in waiting rooms, separation of seating in waiting rooms, increased cleaning and sanitizing practices, health and temperature screenings for every patient and employee, and universal masking.
Likewise, your nurse and physician may be wearing a face shield in addition to a mask during your visit.
Beyond these few adjustments, everything else about your well-woman exam should be business as usual and what you’re used to every visit.
“All of the protocols are designed to allow you to get your mammogram and annual clinical breast exam without the stress and worry,” Tower adds.
When in doubt, talk it out
“I encourage you to talk to your physician or call your local imaging facility to discuss any concerns you may have before delaying your mammogram,” Tower emphasizes. “In a time of uncertainty, please be certain that we are doing our best to protect you and provide a safe environment for your annual breast health screening exams. Cancer does not stop, and neither will we!”
Click here to schedule your mammogram at a Texas Health breast center near you.
Texas Health Physicians Group providers are employed by Texas Health Physicians Group and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources hospitals.