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Setting off Airport TSA scanners

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This is an out there question but has anyone’s cancer ever been flagged on the airport tsa scanners. In the last year I have flown about 6 times and every airport to/from my trip highlights my abdomen. I have to get my stomach patted down. I finished treatment for triple negative in 2016 but every ache and pain still makes me spiral. I know with triple negative you are considered in the clear after five years but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for a friend, which only adds to my anxiety. Thx for any an advice.

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  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
    edited June 2
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    It seems you are asking about two different things. On the airport issue, sometimes I require extra screening, sometimes I don’t. I have implants and a port and carry a card stating they are medical devices. I once required additional screening because of a compression garment I wore on one leg. Your cancer isn’t being flagged as they have no way of knowing you had cancer and airport screening equipment is not the same as medical screening. Additionally, TSA agents are not radiologists or oncologists. If you are thinking that TSA screening can detect cancer, please put that thought to rest. I don’t mind in the least as I want security to be as thorough as possible. That’s their job!
    As far as recurrence goes, there are simply no guarantees though you are in a favorable position. If you are still spiraling after so many years, you might want to consider counseling and medication. Many of us have availed ourselves of this and it can really help. Take care

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    I guess my question wasn’t very clear…I am concerned that my cancer has metastasized to my abdomen and it is showing up on the TSA scanner and that’s why I am getting patted down. I am asking if this has ever happened to anyone else.

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
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    Please re-read my comment. TSA equipment is not medical screening equipment. TSA agents are not doctors or in any way trained to identify disease. Please put this concern to bed and see your doctor for medical concerns as well as finding a therapist who can help keep you from spiraling. Take care

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    I have an appointment and I plan on going to the doctor. My intention was to ask if anyone else has ever lit up the airport scanners. I just find it odd that separate scanners at different airports have each highlighted my abdomen. In this forum, this is the last place I was expecting to be shamed and advised to be medicated.

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
    edited June 2
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    smc,

    No one is trying to shame you. You asked a question and it was truthfully answered. TSA screening and TSA agents provide no medical clues because they are not designed to and agents are not trained to do so. Providing you with facts wasn’t meant to shame but to illustrate the reality of TSA screening. As far as counseling and medication (super common for cancer patients), while it might not be appropriate for you, it is worth looking into if you are not comfortable with spiraling into dark places. It is just an avenue to consider pursuing as a potential means for diminishing the spiraling.

    I am sorry if this personally offended you. Seeking counseling and taking medication to achieve a better emotional balance is nothing to be ashamed of and can ease the stress of anxiety over recurrence. As mentioned, counseling and sometimes meds are a very typical experience for cancer patients and not a mark of shame. Taking care of one’s emotional health is never, ever shameful. Take care

  • threetree
    threetree Member Posts: 1,423
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    I rarely travel and last summer I set off the TSA screening system, when going to see a friend I hadn't seen in years. I have no implants (well one metal clip in my arm pit I guess) or anything else that I think should sound any alarms. I was actually shocked and embarrassed, and burst into tears. What they were concerned about was an area on my sternum and remaining breast that is like a big hard lump. My sternum fractured right there and healed strangely. I have a large hard lump from the sternum, and a super tight muscle next to it, "flowing" onto the remaining breast. When they said I needed additional screening I asked why and they touched my upper body where all the damage is and said, "What's this?" It's all flesh and bone, so I have no idea why they were alarmed. They did ask if I would prefer "private screening", but I told them as long as I didn't have to take my clothes off, I was fine staying in the main area. I think the other people there might learn something if they have to witness someone being humiliated like I was. I was actually deeply hurt and had no idea whatsoever that anything like that could happen, no warning from the medical people or the airport people at all, and I thought to myself, "So this is what breast cancer gets you, huh?" I was really shaken and embarrassed. It will make me think twice about flying again. I'd have to really want to go.

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    threetree, thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry for your experience and that you were humiliated. I hope you were still able to enjoy your trip. Thx again for sharing.

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
    edited June 2
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    threetree,

    I am very sorry you felt humiliated and embarrassed. All manner of things can trigger additional screening whether one has had cancer or not. TSA agents look for anomalies. They are not doctors or radiologists and simply operate under the guidelines they’ve been given to help protect the traveling public. The additional screening, which could have been done privately, almost always clears up any questions and then you’re on your way. No one enjoys additional screening and TSA agents are not medical personnel but they are responsible for security and a secondary screening can be part of that for anyone, whether they have had cancer or not. I mentioned earlier that I have had numerous secondary screening over the years which are understandable as my port, my implants and even my leg compression garment are all anomalies. I accept the offer of a private screening and am actually happy that anomalies are carefully checked. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain sometimes but a necessity in this day and age.
    Ultimately, the question was can TSA scanners/agents detect cancer via TSA imaging. The answer is a simple no but anything that is considered an anomaly , for whatever reason, merits further inspection.

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    Ex…, to be clear…I never wrote/asked if TSA agents can diagnose cancer. The TSA equipment/Scanners flag something on my body that requires the the agent to pat me down. This has happened repeatedly at different airports and has given me pause. I am going to the doctor and in the meantime I am just curious if anyone else out there has had a similar experience.

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
    edited June 2
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    Great! Getting it checked out by the doctor sounds like a good idea. Take care

    PS: I was hoping to provide some comfort by telling you TSA screening is not medical screening. Clearly I missed the mark, so mea culpa again.

  • harley07
    harley07 Member Posts: 303
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    @smc123 - I only travel by plane 1-2 x year now but for several decades I was on a plane almost every week as my job required domestic and international travel. I have been pulled aside many times for additional screening and I mostly certainly don’t like it. I’ve found that the sensitivity of the scanners and the capability of the TSA agents is highly variable. The TSA will do secondary screening on a certain percentage of travelers as part of their program so you may have had the bad luck to be pulled aside twice.

    While this is not your story, I will say I sailed through TSA earlier this year on a flight from South America through Dallas. The TSA agents in Dallas were short staffed, rude and disorganized. Nonetheless I made it through without secondary screening. Three weeks later I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which not only had not appeared on the TSA screening (I would not expect it would) but had not shown up on the medical ultrasound and CA-125 blood test a few weeks earlier. In other words, even as sensitive as medical testing is, it is not perfect. And the TSA scanners are nowhere near as good as medical screening.

    Wishing you the best.

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    Harley07, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m very sorry about your ovarian cancer and I hope you are in good health now. Thx again.

  • waves2stars
    waves2stars Member Posts: 128
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    I worried about getting a pat down because of the mx reconstruction clips in my breast and abdomen, the titanium plate in my head from brain surgery and my port but that didn’t happen.

    Here is an article that explains how those scanners work. Looks like it can only possibly detect external tumors. Interestingly, thick braided hair and perspiration can also trigger it.

    https://www.rd.com/article/what-do-airport-body-scanners-see/

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
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    waves2stars,

    Thank you for taking the time to post that article. I pretty much thought that was the case. I am a former Pan Am flight attendant. Although I have been out of the industry for decades, I still maintain an interest in aviation and try to keep up with things. Thanks again for helping to set minds at ease. Bottom line? Airport imaging equipment is not medical and is not able to “see” internal happenings in human bodies.

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    wave2stars, thank you for sharing the article:)

  • vlh
    vlh Member Posts: 773
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    Smc123, I expected my hip replacement to show up on the TSA scans, but both shoulders light up every time, too. I think it's because I was born with dysplasia & the arthritis is so bad that the scar tissue looks suspicious.

    I'm now 8 years out from my diagnosis, initially HER2+ with the core needle biopsy, then the dreaded triple negative diagnosis when the solid tumor was analyzed. Weird symptoms still bring cancer thoughts bubbling to the surface so I understand why you would inquire about the TSA oddity. It's certainly worth asking your oncologist about to rule out anything worrisome. I don't think Ex meant to come across harshly. The problem with forums is that words aren't delivered with kind, caring facial expressions so directness can convey as brusque or judgmental. Please let us know if your doctor has thoughts on the abdomen situation.

    Lyn

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
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    Mea culpa a thousand times over. I am very direct in my approach to bc. Although anyone facing the possibility of a dx has my greatest sympathy (I was once there too!) , I believe knowledge is true power which is why I was quick to dispel any notion that TSA can see disease in the body. Again, my apologies but it would make no sense to support an idea which has no basis in fact.

    As to suggesting counseling / meds, if that is insulting, unsupportive or too direct, I am not sure what to say. Many cancer patients, not just bc, regularly avail themselves of these things as a cancer dx is a stressful situation for most of us to process. Many cancer centers offer referral and support for just this sort of thing as it is common place and very typical of cancer patients to use such support. To say that seeking mental health support at a time of crisis is shaming is suggesting that taking care of one’s mental health is shameful. It’s not and the many, many bco members who have sought mental health support would agree. Take care

  • vlh
    vlh Member Posts: 773
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    Exbrn, as noted, I absolutely believe you were coming from a caring place. I think your initial post was worded a bit awkwardly & would have landed differently in person. Also, I was diagnosed with triple negative cancer in 2016 and the cancer goblins still rear their ugly heads periodically. I think that's perfectly normal rather than an indication that one needs mental health care. That support can be very valuable for anyone who has faced a cancer battle, but, as worded, seemed to imply mental illness if one didn't just "get over it" a certain number of years out. I know that wasn't your intent. Misunderstandings are inevitable on social media.

    Smx123, I understand your anxiety. I, too, worry that I'll be that outlier. When I had my hip replaced, the nurse (who gave me creepy Dr. Death vibes) handed the surgeon another patient's replacement components. My blood pressure got too low during the second replacement surgery putting me into kidney failure, doubling my hospital stay & requiring a blood transfusion. My catheter was already out when they gave me heavy-duty diuretics. You're not allowed to go to the bathroom on your own post-surgery and there was a very rare ice storm that meant the hospital was short-staffed. My first chemo port coiled up and retracted 3 cm, something neither the surgeon who implanted it nor my oncologist had seen before despite both having many years of experience. It kinda feels like if someone would be that statistical oddball, it would be me. I hope that your doctor and the information others shared about airport scanners can provide you with some comfort and reassurance.

    Hugs, Lyn

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,949
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    Not going to argue but it is unfortunate that mental health care is still looked down upon particularly since it is a super common tool used by cancer patients to lower anxiety levels. There was no implication of mental illness (your words, not mine) nor is seeking counseling/ meds indicative of mental illness. I assumed that most people understood that counseling/meds are common tools used, usually temporarily, to decrease anxiety related to a traumatic event,such as cancer dx. My assumption was faulty and for that I apologize.

    Cancer goblins? I’m stage IV. I face them every day. You take good care and I’ll take this opportunity to exit the building…

  • smc123
    smc123 Member Posts: 38
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    Vlh, thx for your kind words:)

  • vlh
    vlh Member Posts: 773
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    Smc123, you're welcome.

    Exbrn, my heart goes out to you dealing with mets. No one is looking down on mental health care. I saw a psychologist for help with depression coping techniques and pain reduction biofeedback when I was losing my career and life savings to severe Fibromyalgia and facing a future of chronic pain at only 33 years of age. I explained why it appeared to me that the wording you used conveyed a different meaning than intended. It wasn't a criticism of you or mental health care. Rather, an observation. I know you only wanted to help as did I.

    Lyn