98point6 physician Leslie Hsiung, MD shares the top things that scare patients—and why you shouldn’t get spooked


MAMMOGRAM

Defined: A breast cancer screening recommended for women after a certain age and/or depending on family history. Since guidelines differ, talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.

Why it seems scary: For a “non-invasive” test, it’s pretty…personal. And the thought of compressing breast tissue between two plates sounds more than a little intimidating.

Dr. Hsiung breaks it down: The reality is that breast cancer is highly treatable in its early stages—and mammograms are typically extremely effective in detection and saving lives. The compression is only for about 30 seconds at a time while x-ray images are taken from different angles; the whole test should take no longer than 20-30 minutes total.

Helpful tips: 

  • BEFORE – Avoid scheduling your mammogram in the week before your menstrual period when breasts are more tender and sensitive. You can also take ibuprofen about 30–40 minutes before the screening to help minimize the pain. 
  • DURING – Anxiety makes any pain worse. Follow the instructions given by the technician, breathe slowly and try not to worry about your results. If you are prone to fibrocystic breasts, you are more likely to experience discomfort. It’s okay to let your technician know and communicate with them during the procedure to find the best approach.

COLONOSCOPY

Defined: An important colon cancer screening procedure that’s recommended once every 10 years (provided there are no abnormalities), starting at age 50. The colonoscopy takes about an hour, and most centers will keep you for an additional hour or so in recovery.

Why it seems scary: A long, flexible, tubular instrument with a tiny camera on the end is inserted…into the rectum. And before THAT can happen, patients must go through a bowel prep involving a restricted diet and a prescribed laxative.

Dr. Hsiung breaks it down: Yes, you can expect to have frequent bowel movements during the prep and that is probably not how you want to spend a day off from work. Just remember this part of the process is crucial so everything can be fully visualized. (Think of it as one of those trendy cleanses everyone is talking about!) During the colonoscopy itself, you are completely sedated, so it’s painless and you’re unaware of what’s happening—although closely monitored by the anesthesiologist and gastroenterologist the entire time.

Helpful tips:

  • BEFORE – Schedule when you have at least a couple of days off and access to a bathroom in the comfort and privacy of your home. 
  • AFTER – Plan on taking it easy for the rest of the day and not driving. You may feel some mild cramping and bloating afterwards but it usually resolves quickly.

A NEW OR CHANGING MOLE

Defined: Spots, marks or growths on the skin that can appear or change over time. Abnormal moles with certain characteristics may indicate skin cancer.

Why it seems scary: Skin cancer!

Dr. Hsiung breaks it down: With age and sun exposure, new moles or growths will occasionally appear on the skin, which can be normal—but with so much heightened awareness around cancer, specifically melanoma, it’s easy to get worried. Keep in mind that only about 10-20% of diagnosed melanomas are thought to have cropped up in association with a preexisting abnormal mole. Also: while we worry most about melanoma, because it is the most fatal form of skin cancer and seems to be increasing faster in prevalence, when detected early it is generally curable with surgery or other treatments. Although that is all reassuring, it’s important to still pay attention to suspicious lesions and bring them to your doctor’s attention in a timely manner, especially because people with atypical moles have anywhere from a 3- to 20-fold increased risk of developing malignant melanoma later.

Helpful tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the general landscape of your skin so you can recognize anything new or changing. If you do get screened annually because of your risk profile, ask your dermatologist if there are any particular moles worth paying closer attention to. 
  • Remember the ABCDEs of abnormal moles, which include: Asymmetry, an unclear Border, unusual or multi Color, 6mm or more Diameter and any Evolving change in any of the above.

LINGERING COUGH

Defined: A cough is your body’s reflex to protect against things that irritate the throat and airways; often a dominant symptom in a respiratory infection such as a cold.

Why it seems scary: When a cough drags on…and on…after an illness, patients wonder if the medication didn’t work, if they’re still sick or maybe it’s a sign of something serious.

Dr. Hsiung breaks it down: A lingering cough after you’ve had a cold can be very annoying but it’s a normal reflex. A viral chest cold (acute bronchitis), for example, can cause cough lasting an average of 3 weeks. That said, if you’re coughing consistently for 4 weeks or more, or having pain when breathing or shortness of breath, you should bring it to a doctor’s attention. They may recommend a chest x-ray to be safe.

Helpful tip:  

  • You can help speed up the resolution of your cough by helping your body clear the mucus. Ways of doing this include increasing fluid intake, gargling with warm salt water and performing sinus rinses.

ENLARGED LYMPH NODES

Defined: These nodules of tissue are normally small (less than pea-sized), soft and movable, but may get larger and feel swollen or tender when the body is fighting an infection.

Why it seems scary: Lumps are sometimes a sign of something more serious—so it’s natural to feel panicky.

Dr. Hsiung breaks it down: Reactive and enlarged lymph nodes are a normal part of your body’s immune response; they should resolve with your illness but may linger for a week or two post-recovery, going down slowly.

Helpful tips: 

  • If needed, an anti-inflammatory (such as ibuprofen) can be taken to help ease discomfort. 
  • When lymph nodes are rapidly enlarging to more than 1 cm, or persisting for 3–4 weeks, you should connect with a physician for guidance or simply extra peace of mind.

How can 98point6 help?

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