How Good Is Your Radiologist?
Your results are only as accurate as the expert who interprets them, so ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a top-notch professional at a high-quality facility. Generally speaking, the more X-rays a radiologist reads, the better. All are required to read at least 480 mammograms per year, says Carol H. Lee, M.D., chair of the American College of Radiology's Commission on Breast Imaging. However, your best bet is to go to a doctor who reads many mammograms a day. It's also a smart idea to check that the breast-screening center is certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and compliant with the Mammography Quality Standards Act. Go to:
- Notify your doctor immediately if you find any suspicious lumps, redness, or nipple discharge during your monthly breast self-exam. The best time to examine yourself is a week after your period starts. Go to breastcancer.org and click on Breast Self Exam for a step-by-step demonstration.
- Make an appointment to have your mammogram about a week after your period is expected to end, when your breast tissue may be less dense. "It's also more comfortable then, because your breasts aren't as tender," says Dr. Bevers.
- Be sure your radiologist has access to previous mammograms for comparison. If you've had digital mammograms in the past, your doctor may be able to give you a compact disc with the images.
- "Get a second opinion if you find a lump or another breast irregularity and your physician dismisses it too quickly. "Pursue it until you're satisfied you're getting the right answer," says Dr. Dershaw.
- Schedule next year's mammogram when you're at the radiologist's office, since there's often a long wait.