That’s No Excuse: It’s Time to Get a Mammogram

That’s No Excuse: It’s Time to Get a Mammogram

That’s No Excuse: It’s Time to Get a Mammogram

Lee esto en EspañolMammograms can help spot a problem before it becomes a serious health worry. So why do many women put off scheduling the test?

They’re too busy. They don’t want to miss work. They don’t want to find a new doctor or new testing center. They have trouble finding someone to watch their children or an older adult they can’t leave alone.

They’re afraid. They think it might hurt. They fear radiation from a mammogram. They fear finding they have cancer. Or they’re in denial. It can’t happen to them. Or mammograms are only for older women. 

Some buy into myths about breast cancer. No lump, no cancer. No family history of breast cancer, no risk. Or they think their healthy lifestyle makes mammograms unnecessary. 

Excuses, fear and denial don’t cut it when it comes to taking care of your health. More than 1 million people in the U.S. get cancer each year. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among American women, second only to skin cancers. About 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will get invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.

Getting routine screening tests is the best way women can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about your total health, risk factors and family medical history. Those are the things that will determine the best testing plan for you. More information on breast cancer is available from the American Cancer Society

Tips for Getting It Done

Consider making a day of it. Find a friend or family member who also needs a mammogram and schedule appointments for the same time. Then add lunch or another fun outing to your day. Or trade caregiving duties with a friend who also needs to catch up on her health appointments.

You can also find ways to make the appointment work better for your schedule. If you have a hard time getting away from work, ask about evening or Saturday appointments. Ask what days and times are best for short waits. And see if you can get your paperwork ahead of time to fill in before your appointment, or ask if you can do it online.

And if concerns about cost are holding you back, don’t worry. Preventive mammograms are covered at no cost when the services are provided by a provider in your health plan’s network.*

Don’t Put It Off

Preventive screenings are a big part of fighting breast cancer. They can help spot the disease early, when it’s easier to treat. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urges women 50 to 74 years old to have a mammogram every two years. Other respected groups call for yearly testing.

If you are a woman age 20 or older, talk to your doctor about clinical breast exams. If you are between 40 and 49 years old, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of mammograms and when you should start getting them.

Your doctor may want you to start these screenings earlier if you have a family history of breast or other cancers.

Mammograms aren’t perfect. They may miss some cancers. And an abnormal mammogram report does not always mean there is cancer. But you’ll need to have more tests or exams to find out.

Still, decades of research show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to find breast cancer early. That makes them less likely to need aggressive treatment like surgery and chemo. And they are more likely to be cured.

If your results are normal, continue to get mammograms based on the plan you’ve set with your doctor.

How Can Breast Density Affect Your Mammogram?

You may have noticed an addition on your last mammogram results — a note about whether you have dense breasts. 

The Food and Drug Administration has four levels of breast tissue density, from category A (fatty) to D (extremely dense). 

You won’t be able to tell if your breasts are dense by the way they feel. It only shows up on your mammogram.

Why Is It Important?
It’s harder to detect cancer in dense breast tissue than in less dense tissue. But mammograms are still effective at screening for breast cancer, even for dense breast tissue.

What Causes Dense Breasts?
Things that can lead to dense breasts include:

  • Younger age
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Low body fat
  • Hormonal influences, including menstrual cycles
  • Hormone changes (after hormone therapy)

If you have dense breast tissue, talk to your doctor about whether you should have additional screening tests for breast cancer.

*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: Breast Cancer: Screening U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2016; Breast Cancer Myths vs. Facts, 2019; U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, 2020; Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosis American Cancer Society; How Common Is Breast Cancer?    American Cancer Society, 2020; What Is a Mammogram? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018; What Is Breast Cancer Screening? CDC, 2018; Basic Information About Breast Cancer,  CDC, 2019; Breast Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2020