The breast cancer screening process can often be difficult, anxiety-provoking, and just plain “scary” for your patients. Fortunately, there are a few ways to dramatically improve how they anticipate, experience and reflect on their annual screening mammogram, which ultimately helps to reduce late-stage breast cancer diagnoses, and even save lives.
Patient education that focuses on expectations and proactively addresses fears helps to set the stage for a better mammogram experience. Below are five common fears that patients often have about breast cancer screening and how you can address them.
Fear 1: “If I get screened, they might find breast cancer.”
Helping patients to understand the proven statistics for breast cancer diagnosis can ease their fears and provide comfort. Only about five out of every thousand patients screened have breast cancer. Even when additional testing is recommended (the dreaded “callback”), about 95 percent of those patients do not end up having breast cancer. It’s important to remind the patient that the goal is to detect breast cancer early, so that no woman has to endure the problems of a late-stage diagnosis.
Fear 2: “The exam is so painful.”
The pain during a mammogram has been described as a “4” on a 0–10 scale. This is a similar level of discomfort to what you might experience from a mild headache or tight shoes. It is more pressure or discomfort than pain and it only lasts 10-15 seconds.
Fear 3: “I know lots of women who get called back for more tests or biopsies.”
To address this concern, it’s important to explain what a false-positive (callback for additional tests or biopsy recommendations) is and how results can be reduced with digital mammography, particularly digital breast tomosynthesis, when performed annually. False-positive results can also be significantly reduced when patients and their provider have access to their prior mammogram images for comparison. Educating patients on the importance of getting their priors is one way to empower them to take an active role in their own quality of care.
Fear 4: “It takes forever to get my results and I worry the entire time.”
When women were asked about what bothered them the most about the mammogram screening process, the majority responded that waiting for their results was the most stressful part— even more stressful than having the mammogram done. You can explain to your patients that the wait time largely depends on having all the imaging information available to the radiologists when they are interpreting the exam.
Fear 5: “I will have to run around and wait for my provider to burn my images onto a disc. I don’t have time for that.”
While it’s important to have prior images at the time of the exam, it shouldn’t be a source of stress for the patient. You can encourage them to obtain their mammogram history and walk them through the process of how to do that at your facility so that they have them for future appointments. You can also partner with a platform like Mammosphere, which enables the patient to gather, store, and share her breast health history digitally. No more waiting and no more discs. It’s a win-win for both the patient and your facility.
A tool like Mammosphere can help to improve the patient experience on many levels. While scheduling their exams, a patient may be asked to provide her prior comparison mammograms and other breast exams for her appointment. Instead of driving around trying to locate the discs of exams at previously-visited breast centers, the patient may, through Mammosphere, electronically request, upload, and share her images with her new breast center from her personal account. Even if she arrives for her exam without her prior studies, the breast center has the ability to immediately request electronic transfer of her essential prior comparisons, cutting down the usual 7-14 day wait time to procure these outside images, reducing the time for the patient anxiously awaiting her report.
Patients expect timely results, which are expedited by the radiologist when prior mammograms are available to be carefully compared. Patient portals allow for electronic receipt of reports and expedite consultation for further diagnosis or treatment.
If you are looking for additional information, here are a few helpful resources:
- Mammography Facts
- Mammograms: What to Know Before You Go
- Pro Tips to Have a Better Mammogram Experience
- Breast Cancer Risk Assessment: https://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/ or http://densebreast-info.org/img/english_riskassessment_12.13.17.pdf (also available in Spanish)
- Mammogram Basics
- Introduction to Dense Breast Tissue