Many women don't discover breast cancer until they have a mammogram. That's because the symptoms of breast cancer are different for each person. While some women may feel lumps during self-examination, the signs are not always visible to the touch or the naked eye. Yet, many women avoid mammograms for different reasons. Some fear the worst; others dread the pain or discomfort. Regardless of your situation, pre-mammogram jitters are normal.
It’s helpful to focus less on the worst-case scenario and more on the facts. For instance, mammography has come a long way. Mammograms are faster, more convenient, and less uncomfortable than ever today. They’re also more accurate and provide peace of mind to millions of women every year. And the best thing about mammograms? They save lives.
Getting the facts is fundamental. If you’re confused about what you're hearing or reading, check out these common misconceptions about breast health and the truth behind them:
1. I don’t know when I’m supposed to get a mammogram.
We know mammograms can detect breast cancer early before any symptoms appear, and less aggressive treatment options are available if detected early. Starting at age 40, women with an average risk of breast cancer have the option to get a mammogram once a year. After 55, women can switch to a mammogram every two years or continue annual mammograms. However, women at high risk may need to start screenings younger than 40, including women with a mother, sister, or daughter who has had breast cancer. Talk to your doctor to determine if your risk of breast cancer is high and when and how often to get mammograms.
2. I can’t afford a mammogram; it’s too expensive.
By law, most health insurance plans must cover screening mammograms for women over 40. In many states, Medicaid and public employee health plans cover screening mammograms. Medicare also covers annual mammograms for all women over the age of 40. Call your insurance company to confirm coverage. If you don't have insurance, talk to your provider about your options. You may qualify for reduced rates or a free mammogram based on various factors
3. I’m scared of what the mammogram might find.
Fear of the unknown is natural, but early detection is the best protection. Finding breast cancer early gives you more options for treatment. Moreover, less than 1 in 10 women need further tests after mammograms. And for those who get a callback, this does not necessarily mean bad news. More than 99% of those who get called back are in the clear.
4. I have no breast problems or a family history of breast cancer.
Most women with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. Studies have shown that being a woman and getting older are the main factors influencing your risk. The older you are, the higher your likelihood of developing breast cancer, regardless of your family history. If you’re 40 or older and have no history of breast cancer in your family, you should get an annual mammogram, regardless of whether you have symptoms.
5. My breasts are too small or big for the machine.
Mammograms are less painful than ever. If the fear of pain or discomfort prevents you from getting a mammogram, ask your provider if there’s anything you can take for pain relief, including over-the-counter medicine. If you have large breasts, your technician may need to take many photos of the breast tissue. If you have small breasts, you may feel like you don’t need a mammogram because you don’t have enough breast tissue. The truth is that everyone has enough tissue for a mammogram. Mammograms remain the best way to detect breast cancer at an early stage. Mammography technicians are trained and know how to do mammograms on all women, regardless of breast size. Consider scheduling your mammogram a week or two before your period. Breasts may be tender during your menstrual cycle.