FIRST PERSON | New research shows that Medicare patients with breast cancer wait as long as 32 days before surgery. This wait is typical in the United States. It is not only older women that have a long wait. I first found a lump in my breast in September 2011. My first surgery was not until November 2011. The wait was not on my end -- in northwest Arkansas, it takes at least three weeks to get an appointment with anyone.
MedicalXpress reports that the Fox Chase Cancer Center published its findings in the Nov. 19, 2012 edition of The Journal of Clinical Oncology. The study evaluated data from over 72,000 Medicare patients with non-metastatic breast cancer and found that in 2005, at least half of the breast cancer patients waited a minimum of 32 days before having surgery. This data shows a marked increase from 21 days back in 1992.
Breast cancer diagnosis
It is interesting that they looked only at non-metastatic breast cancer. When you first go to see your doctor about a breast problem, like a lump, you have no idea if it is even cancer, much less if it has spread to other parts of the body. Diagnostic mammography, breast MRIs, and ultrasound cannot tell you if the area of concern is cancer. Only surgery can determine breast cancer -- that means either a needle biopsy or other invasive procedures.
The waiting can kill you
Medicare had nothing to do with my time delays, as I have private insurance. I have non-metastatic breast cancer. It took 3 weeks to see my OBGYN, then it was another week before I had the imaging done. From there, it took three weeks to schedule a wire-guided surgical biopsy. I had the biopsy in mid-November 2011. It was then I received a cancer diagnosis and was told that it was a high-grade tumor -- meaning it was very aggressive. At the same time of my diagnosis, my surgeon ordered more tests. We waited until late December 2011 to discuss a mastectomy. The wait was due to him wanting to see the results of genetic testing. Personally, I was uncomfortable with the long wait time.
Long waits are not just for Medicare recipients and for people in large metropolitan areas. Here in rural Arkansas, wait times are long because there is a shortage of physicians. The area is growing but the medical community is not keeping up with the growth. Patients like me who have serious medical conditions are traveling to other areas in order to get better care.
Lynda Altman was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle With Breast Cancer."