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Mammograms: Fact or Fiction?

Mammograms: Fact or Fiction?

Making healthy lifestyle choices is your first line of defense against cancer. And annual mammograms are the first step in successfully detecting and treating breast cancer. Learn some of the myths and facts about mammograms to stay healthy and reduce your risk of developing cancer. Together, we can improve breast health in our community.

Fiction: Mammograms are not accurate.

Fact: A digital mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer.
Mammography correctly identifies about 87 percent of women who have breast cancer. This statistic is higher in women over the age of 50 than in younger women, as well as in women with fatty breasts than in women with dense breasts. Frederick Health offers 3D mammography, which takes multiple images to produce a 3D image of the breast tissue. This allows the radiologist to read and interpret with more detail and precision than ever before.

Most medical experts agree that successful treatment of breast cancer is linked to early diagnosis—the earlier you can catch breast cancer through screenings like digital mammograms, the sooner you can begin treatment before it spread throughout the body. Although it’s the most effective breast cancer screening tool, it’s not perfect. It can miss about 13 percent of breast cancers, and some are harder for mammography to detect than others.

Fiction: “If I don’t have any breast complaints, I should receive a mammogram every 3 years.”

Fact: Women should begin yearly mammograms starting at age 40. They can switch to mammograms every 2 years at age 55.

As you get older, your chances of having breast cancer increase. Even if you have no signs of breast cancer, no changes with your breasts, and no history of breast cancer in your family, you still need a mammogram. If you have had breast cancer or are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should begin screening before age 40 and the frequency of screening.

Fiction: Women over the age of 70 do not need regular breast health checkups, including mammograms.

Fact: Breast cancer is still a disease in older women, and mammograms are still recommended for this demographic.

About half of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over the age of 62. Routine mammograms are the best option to find and treat breast cancer early. Screenings should continue as long as you’re in good health and expect to live 10 more years or longer.

Fiction: Mammograms are scary and painful.

Fact: Mammography is a fast procedure—typically only 20 minutes—and discomfort is minimal.
You will feel pressure on the breast as it is squeezed by the breast paddle. Some women have sensitive breasts that may experience discomfort. Frederick Health Imaging facilities now offer a softer mammogram, which uses a soft foam cushion called a MammoPad to make the experience more comfortable. Our SmartCurve system improves comfort in 93 percent of patients who reported moderate to severe discomfort with standard compression. Talk to your doctor about these options.

Fiction: I can’t afford to get a mammogram.

Fact: Mammograms are affordable.

Insurance plans governed by the federal Affordable Care Act must cover screening mammography as a preventive benefit every 1-2 years for women age 40 and older without requiring copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles. Many states also require that Medicaid and public employee health plans cover screening mammography. Medicare pays for annual screening mammograms for all female Medicare beneficiaries age 40 and older. Talk to your mammography facility or health insurance company about costs and your coverage. Information about free or low-cost mammography screening programs is also available from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) and the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, including options for low-income, uninsured women, at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).

Fiction: Mammograms prevent breast cancer.

Fact: Unfortunately, they do not.

Mammograms only detect cancer that already exists. In many instances, breast cancers have been present for years by the time they appear on mammograms.

Fiction: Mammograms can cause cancer.

Fact: Mammograms use minimal doses of radiation and do not cause cancer.

It’s like getting an X-ray. On average, the total dose of a typical mammogram with two views of each breast is only 0.4 mSv (a measure of radiation dose)—for comparison, people in the U.S. are exposed to about 3 mSv of radiation, on average, just from contaminants in their natural surroundings.

Fiction: “I can’t have a mammogram because I have breast implants.”

Fact: Women with breast implants should continue to have mammograms.

Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it difficult to detect an abnormality. If you have breast implants, it’s important to let your radiologist know when scheduling your mammogram. They can take steps to make sure that as much breast tissue as possible can be seen on the mammogram. If you’ve had an implant following a mastectomy, talk to your doctor about whether a mammogram of the reconstructed breast is necessary.

Fiction: I do not need to prepare for a mammogram.

Fact: We recommend a few steps before your mammogram.

  • Discuss any new findings or problems in your breasts with your doctor. Let your doctor know about prior surgeries, hormone use, and family or personal history of breast cancer.
  • Do not schedule your mammogram the week before your period if your breasts are tender. The best time for screening is a week after your period.
  • Do not schedule a mammogram if you think you may be pregnant.
  • Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder, or lotion under your arms or breasts the day of the exam. Remove all jewelry before your exam too.
  • Tell your radiologist about breast symptoms or problems before the exam.
  • Request previous mammograms and share them with the radiologist during your current exam.

Fiction: Abnormal findings always mean breast cancer.

Fact: An unusual test result does not always equal breast cancer.

Only about 2-4 screening mammograms of every 1,000 lead to a breast cancer diagnosis. Fewer than 1 in 10 women who have a mammogram will need more tests, including biopsies. There’s also a chance that your mammogram could result in a false positive. This occurs when a mammogram shows there’s cancer when there’s none in the breast. The chances of a false positive are higher among younger women and women with dense breasts. If you’re called back to check an abnormal finding, do not panic. Often, it only means that more X-rays or screenings are needed to get a closer look at a certain area.

If you’re over the age of 40, it’s time to schedule an annual mammogram. It’s the best way to find and treat breast cancer at its earliest stage. At Frederick Health, patients can now schedule their mammogram without a physician order. Appointments are available at Frederick Health Crestwood and Frederick Health Rose Hill. If you do not have a primary care provider, a Certified Breast Imaging Navigator will help you find one. If additional images or exams are needed, they’ll schedule them on another day after speaking with your provider.

Please join us in our fight to end cancer and schedule your mammogram today!