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Mammograms are one of the best ways to find it early. They can help detect breast cancer up to three years before it can be felt. So why do so many women put off their mammograms?
Some buy into dangerous myths about breast cancer. No lump, no cancer. No family history, no risk. Mammograms are for older women. Others have a false sense of security – believing a healthy lifestyle makes mammograms unnecessary.
Procrastinators cite their own long list of reasons for skipping the potentially lifesaving screening: They’re too busy. They can’t miss work. They don’t have anyone to watch their kids.
Still, many are simply afraid. They think a mammogram might hurt. They worry about radiation. In the back of their minds, they’re scared cancer may be found.
Excuses, fear and denial don’t cut it when it comes to taking care of your health. Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally, and the most diagnosed cancer among American women. Each year, about 255,000 women are diagnosed with the disease. Nearly 42,000 die women die every year from the disease.
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.
Consider making a day of it. Find a friend or family member who also needs a mammogram and schedule appointments for the same time. Or trade caregiving duties with a friend who also needs to catch up on her health appointments.
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. See if you can complete any paperwork ahead of time online.
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.*
Preventive screenings are a big part of fighting breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women 50 to 74 years old have a mammogram every two years. Other respected groups call for yearly testing.
If you are a woman 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 begin screening earlier if you have a family history of breast or other cancers.
Mammograms aren’t perfect. They may miss some cancers. 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 treatments like surgery and chemo. Most importantly, they are more likely to be cured.
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:
If you have dense breast tissue, talk to your doctor about whether you should have additional screening tests for breast cancer.
Originally published 9/4/2020; Revised 2021
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