Spotlight on Screening: More on Mammography

BCAM_FBcover_100613Mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer used today. It can find cancers at an early stage, when they are small (too small to be felt) and chances of survival are highest. However, according to a study reported in 2011, only about 50 percent of women age 40 and over with insurance received mammograms as recommended.

Susan G. Komen® recommends that women at average risk for breast cancer should get screening mammograms annually beginning at age 40. Women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer should talk with their health care providers to determine which screening options are recommended.

The reasons that women choose not to get mammograms can vary with the individual, but some of the reasons simply come from incorrect information.

I don’t need a mammogram because no one in my family has ever had breast cancer.  

The truth is that the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have NO family history. You can still get breast cancer even if no one in your family has had the diagnosis. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being female and getting older.

I don’t want a mammogram because mammograms are painful!  

A mammogram does require compression of the breast, which is not always comfortable, but the mammogram should NEVER hurt! Consider getting your mammogram between days seven to 14 of your menstrual cycle. Well-trained mammography technologists should listen to their patients and should never compress the breast beyond the patient’s comfort level. Some health systems offer free “mammopads” – soft, thin foam cushions – that can also help with comfort. Let your mammography technologist know if you’ve had a difficult experience in the past. Let your technologist know if the compression hurts.

I’m too busy for a mammogram, especially since I think mammograms are a waste of time. 

Mammograms are not perfect, but they are the best screening tool we have today for breast cancer. Some mammograms may show an abnormality that requires additional imaging and a biopsy and, in the end, no cancer is found. This is called a false positive. Some women have dense breast tissue or other factors, which may make it difficult for an abnormality to be detected by a mammogram. This is called a false negative. However, mammography correctly identifies about 78 percent of women who have breast cancer, and for women 50 and over, mammography correctly identifies about 83 percent of breast cancers. In other words, mammograms save lives – and it is the best screening tool widely available that can find breast cancer early.

I’ve heard mammograms cause cancer.

A woman is exposed to a small amount of radiation during a mammogram, and while the radiation exposure is associated with a higher risk for breast cancer over time, studies show that the benefits of mammography outweigh the risks from radiation exposure.

I don’t want to know if I have breast cancer.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among women in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death. Getting regular screening tests is the best way for women to lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. Screening tests can find breast cancer early, when the chances of survival are highest.

Over the past 20 years, great progress has been made in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, leading to decreased mortality rates. As a result, the number of breast cancer survivors continues to rise. In fact, there are nearly three million breast cancer survivors in the United States today – that’s more than any other group of cancer survivors!

Get Screened!

Be proactive about your breast health and get your mammogram. If not for yourself, then do it for all those who love you and couldn’t imagine a life without you!

Sign up for your screening reminder at www.komen.org/reminder

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