A HEALTH visitor struck by cancer is urging women to be vigilant and check themselves for lumps after finding out that tests do not always show signs of the disease.
Helen Hossell, of Camellia Close, Conisbrough said that one in five mammograms which test women’s breasts for lumps did not spot problems.
The 57-year-old wants women to examine themselves regularly and not rely on technology which could lead to malignant tumours being found too late for effective treatment.
Helen, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer in the breast and lymph nodes in December, admitted that her 30 years as a medical professional had not prepared her for finding out that many mammograms do not work.
She said: “I found a lump myself and went straight to the GP.
“The thing that made me think was when I found the lump originally I went to the Jasmine Centre in Doncaster and they did a mammogram and ultrasound and said you actually cannot see the lump on the mammogram but we know it’s there.”
When Helen enquired further, she was told that ten to 20 per cent of lumps are missed by mammograms.
She said: “That’s one in five ladies and that’s not good enough.”
Helen admitted that she had been “surprised” by the figure and said that denser breast tissue for women up to their fifties was a major reason for mammogram failures, as well as breast implants which can also mask detection.
“I would say self examination by women is the key,” she said.
“What I said to my consultant is when people go for mammograms it would be a good idea if a radiographer or someone else there asked the question ‘Do you examine your breasts yourself?’”
Helen said there was also a time constraint on medical staff of about six minutes for an examination, which she said was insufficient.
She now wants to spread the message to women to be aware of changes in their breasts and to seek medical attention if they are worried.
Helen said: “If you look at the statistics and you see ten to 20 per cent missed in mammograms potentially there are ladies who then find lumps years later when the cancer treatment can be more invasive and it could be terminal if it has been left too long.”
Helen said that women needed to be encouraged to examine themselves by doctors, schools, even “mum to daughter”, as well as ensuring they always went for screening checks.
Helen said: “If I had not found my lump myself they would not have found mine.”
Helen praised the staff who have been treating her and emphasised she was not critical of NHS staff, adding that she believed that cancer treatment where she lives was “excellent”.
Myra Knight, head of Radiology Services at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals, said: “Mammograms are a crucial aspect of breast health and are the best method for detecting the early signs of cancer before any symptoms are noticeable.
“Treatment is often most effective when the cancer is detected at an early stage.
“It’s important that women regularly check their breasts for lumps, bumps or any other changes, and, for those over the age of 47, that they attend their breast screening appointments when invited every three years.
“We wholeheartedly support Helen in encouraging women to get to know their bodies well and to be able to spot any changes to their breasts.
“This is an important message that has the potential to save lives.”