When the writer becomes the patient

“When the writer becomes the patient” by Karen D. Brown, The Boston Globe.

A health journalist who has written about changing guidelines for breast cancer screenings finds herself caught between statistics and personal decisions. She explains in a clear and balanced way how the right recommendation for millions of people might be wrong for a given individual — a dilemma that became clear as soon as she was that individual. She grapples with how you make personal health decisions based on a public-health bell curve when you have no idea which end of the curve you’re on.

…Three weeks earlier, my annual mammogram had turned up some calcifications. Apparently, they can either be benign calcium deposits or signs of something worse. When I went in for a biopsy, the radiologist showed me the X-rays, and I could just make out a few tiny white dots scattered amid my veiny breast tissue. “We get a lot of false alarms,” a nurse assured me shortly before a thin needle was inserted into my left breast to take out the dubious cells and send them out for analysis. I wasn’t actually very worried. “Well, Karen…the report says ductal carcinoma in situ.”

DCIS is a noninvasive, “stage 0” cancer that lives inside the milk ducts of the breast. It accounts for about 60,000 of the country’s 200,000 breast cancer diagnoses annually.

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