Why You Need a Mammogram
Posted 9/23/2016 by UHBlog
Women cite many reasons for skipping mammograms: "I’m too young to get breast cancer." "No one in my family has had the disease." "I don’t want to be exposed to radiation." "It’s uncomfortable to have my breasts compressed between plates."
Add to that suggestions from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that women don’t need their first mammogram until age 50 – and then only biyearly after that – and some women feel validated in their choice to skip yearly breast-cancer screenings.
Not so fast, says breast surgeon Lisa Rock, MD.
“Mammograms have reduced the incidence of breast cancer deaths by one-third since 1990,” she says. “Mammograms can show changes in breast tissue up to two years before they can be felt, so it allows us to find cancers when they’re much smaller and easier to deal with. I think women should get a mammogram yearly from age 40 on. That’s also the recommendation from the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging.”
Still not convinced? Consider these statistics, says Dr. Rock:
- One-sixth of all breast cancers occur in women ages 40 to 49.
- Of all the years of life saved by mammograms, 40 percent are for women in their 40s.
- Thirty percent of breast cancers are missed in women over age 50 who skip a mammogram every other year.
- Seventy-five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
- Radiation exposure from mammography is less than that encountered on a cross-country flight.
- Studies show the short-term anxiety some women experience before a mammogram or after receiving a false positive is short-lived.
- When mammography reveals breast changes that warrant a biopsy, women should be assured that today’s biopsies are minimally invasive procedures performed in a breast center or doctor’s office with a small needle. These biopsies don’t even require anesthesia.
“It’s hard to know which cancers will progress and which won’t,” she says. “In some, the progression is very quick and some may never progress, but it’s hard to ignore some of these early cancers. When women say they don’t want to get a mammogram, I would always like people to walk with me for one day and see what I see.”
If you have risk factors for breast cancer, your doctor may recommend mammograms at an earlier age or at a different frequency. Risk factors include:
- Age. Your risk increases every year after age 50
- Family history
- Not having children or giving birth to your first child after age 30
- Beginning your period before age 10 and experiencing menopause after age 54
- A past biopsy showing atypical cells
- High alcohol usage
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight or obese
Lisa Rock, MD is a breast surgeon and medical director at Breast Center, University Hospitals Regional Hospital Richmond Campus. You can request an appointment with Dr. Rock or any other doctor online.