I saw my oncologist last week to go over my scan results and the first words out of her mouth were “Are the false positives we keep getting stressing you out too much?”
Yes, this quarter’s PET scan showed something that turned out to be nothing at all. While there were no signs of the breast cancer in any of the usual suspicious places (lungs, liver, or bones) the results came back with an area of my colon lighting up like a supernova. Since I have a strong family history of colon cancer, this meant an immediate referral for a colonoscopy – hardly my favorite thing to do. I had to stop the blood thinners I still take for the chemo induced DVT, start up shots in my stomach twice a day, and do the prep. For those of you who have never had a colonoscopy, this is actually the worst part. You start a clear liquid diet for a day, then have to get a full gallon of slightly salty (and in my case, slightly lemon flavored) liquid down your throat. It’s hard to drink all of that fluid in the two sittings 8 hours apart, but I managed to keep it down. They gave me lots of meds during the procedure so I remember very little of it. They did find a small polyp, but they rushed the pathology for me and it came back completely benign. If I ever heard what caused things to light up, it must have been when I was
high as a kite medicated during the procedure.
So out of the four PET scans I’ve had since finishing treatment, half of them have shown worrisome things that turned out to be nothing. My doctor still considers me to be high risk for recurrence, but she’s suggested that I move to scanning every 4 months instead of every 3, which sounds good to me.
The whole thing has brought up the issue of scans in general. The usual procedure amongst local treatment centers is not to do scans after treatment has ended. Dr. Susan Love, one of the leading breast cancer experts in the US, addresses the issue here, but the essence of her argument is
If a woman learns her cancer has spread through these tests, it only means she will be living longer with the knowledge that she has metastatic disease, not that she will live longer than she would have if she were not diagnosed until symptoms developed.
While this sounds counter intuitive, in a strange way it’s making sense to me. I don’t think that I can explain it, but I guess that I am reconciled to cancer’s devious ways and that in some cases, ignorance can be bliss.
While I believe that it’s true that routine scans are unnecessary, it leaves the average cancer patient with anxiety. Every little ache and pain, every twinge in your surgical area, any little weirdnesses: they all drive the thought that the cancer has come back. With my scan schedule, I am able to put those fears to rest, but it’s been at the price of too many days of anxiety about what looks real on a scan but which, in my case, have turned out to be non-starters.
One of my online friends put it best: It’s hard to move on without the scans, and it’s hard to move on with the scans.
PS My doctor said that Metformin, which is a diabetes drug that is being looked at for preventing the recurrence of cancer, can be the cause of a colon lighting up like mine did. I’m not on that drug, but if you are that might be useful to know.