While October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s no wrong time to talk about what mammograms can and cannot do for you as well as what you need to know as you age.
Getting a mammogram is never any woman’s favorite thing to do, but, if you haven’t gotten your first one yet, you may be wondering what to expect.
What to Expect in a Mammogram
First off, a mammogram is a quick procedure. It usually takes about 20 minutes, not including the time spent in your doctor’s waiting room. Also, while there is a little discomfort, it isn’t painful.
If you’re concerned about the radiation used, according to BreastCancer.org, only a tiny amount is used, and it shouldn’t be a major concern.
Benefits and Risks of Mammograms
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a mammogram is early detection. Finding breast cancer early increases your chances of recovery. If your cancer is found in Stage One, you have a much higher chance of complete recovery and survival compared to later stages of cancer.
Also, early detection means more women are able to keep their breasts instead of having to have a mastectomy.
There are some risks associated with mammograms as well. Perhaps the two biggest are a false positive mammogram reading and a false negative mammogram reading.
It is possible that your healthy breast tissue can hide a breast cancer tumor so it does not appear on the results. In addition, it is possible for the test to identify an abnormality that appears to be cancer when it isn’t.
This, of course, leads to more tests and added stress and worry. The real takeaway is to understand that mammograms are not foolproof. They can miss things and make a misdiagnosis, but the overall benefits do outweigh these risks.
When to Get a Mammogram
There has been some controversy in the last few years as to when a woman should start getting mammograms and how often, but these guidelines from the American Cancer Society will help you decide what is best for you.
- Ages 40 to 44 – You should have the option of starting yearly exams if you so choose.
- Ages 45 – 54 – You should receive a mammogram each year.
- Ages 55 and older – You can continue with yearly mammograms or switch to one every other year.
While 1 out of 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer and just over 40,000 women are expected to die in 2017 from the disease, the good news is that deaths from breast cancer have been on the decline since 1989.
This decline is due to earlier detection through screenings such as mammograms and advances in treatment.
No matter when you and your doctor decide that starting yearly mammograms is right for you, monthly self-exams are important regardless of your age.