Ask A Feminist: Do Planned Parenthood And Breast Cancer Screenings Go Together?

We've got some bad news for ya.

We've got some bad news for ya.

I’m a big ol’ feminist and I love Planned Parenthood. All the anti-choicers I know are walking around gloating that PP allegedly performs no mammograms. I was all “Yuh-huh! They totally screen for breast cancer!” but when I called my local affiliate to ask about mammograms, they said they refer out for that and don’t do them at the clinic. I’m devastated that the antis are right! How do I acknowledge it without more gloating coming my way?

- Perplexed Imaginary Feminist

Let this be known as the Great Mammogram Gotcha Moment of 2015. Not for the antis, mind you. For us feminists. All we need to explain this little hiccup in the Planned Parenthood defense is a little basic knowledge of medicine.

So, here’s the deal. When you go to Planned Parenthood, you are most likely going to be seen by a person who got medical training and specialized in either gynecology and obstetrics or internal medicine. These are people who are qualified to wield a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff, a speculum, a pap smear swab, and their bare hands. Their bare hands are what they use for clinical (or manual) breast exams, which are one part of breast cancer screening and are usually standard care in any well-woman exam, whether it's received at a Planned Parenthood clinic or a private doctor’s office. 

You will not get a mammogram during these exams. Not at Planned Parenthood and probably not at a private doctor’s office, unless you’re seen at a multi-speciality facility with radiology services.

Hold up, you’re thinking. What’s this about radiology? We’re talking about breasts, not broken bones!

Yes, I know. But this is important. Mammography is part of a TOTALLY DIFFERENT MEDICAL SPECIALITY known as medical imaging. Doctors and radiology nurses and techs get totally different specialty training that makes them qualified to read mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, and X-rays. These are the people you want looking at your film because that’s what they do. You don’t want your gynecologist doing this, because she isn’t trained to do that. Much as you don’t want your dentist performing your colonoscopy. Different training, different skill sets, different instruments (thank God, because you don’t want dental instruments near your colon), and different facilities.

Not only will most Planned Parenthood clinics not have a radiologist on staff, they also won’t have a clientele that requires mammograms. Many of the patients seen at Planned Parenthood are younger than 40, which is the recommended age for annual mammograms. (Women should perform self exams monthly starting in their 20s and get clinical exams annually throughout their 20s and 30s).

This means they will refer patients who need a mammogram to an imaging facility where trained people can perform them. For patients with insurance, this can be any imaging facility, since mammograms are generally a covered service. For the uninsured, Planned Parenthood can help find facilities that assist low-income women or help enroll women in the National Breast And Cervical Cancer Screening Program that provides free or low-cost mammograms and pap smears to qualifying patients.

That’s the skinny. Planned Parenthood provides clinical breast exams and refers patients to radiology facilities for mammograms. When your anti-choice friends try to get smug about the Planned-Parenthood-No-Give-Mammogram derp, you can say, “That’s because gynecology and radiology are different. Your gynecologist doesn't give you mammograms, does she?” Then you can sit back and bask in your feminism and being smart.

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