3 Mammogram Myths -- Debunked

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woman getting mammogram

There are many misconceptions and myths around breast cancer and mammograms. We talked with Holly Marshall, MD, Division Chief of Breast Imaging at UH Cleveland Medical Center, and Niki Constantinou, MD, breast radiologist at University Hospitals, about three common misconceptions – and to learn the facts about screening mammograms. 

The Radiation in Mammograms is Dangerous

The Myth: “Mammograms cause cancer from all the radiation I don’t want my body getting all that radiation and giving me cancer!”

The radiation you receive from a mammogram is minimal. It is equivalent to the amount you are exposed to as a result of a transatlantic flight. Or it is the difference in the level of ionizing radiation present in the environment between Cleveland and Colorado.

The amount is radiation also is minimal when you weigh the benefits of mammograms versus the risks.

The benefits are less deaths, less surgery and less need for chemotherapy because of earlier detection and detection of pre-cancer, among others. The risks are radiation exposure, anxiety, inconvenience, false positives and false negatives.

Out of 100 women who get a screening mammogram, about 90 will be told that their mammograms are normal. Around 10 will be asked to return for additional mammograms or ultrasounds. Of that 10, six will learn that their mammograms are normal; two will be asked to return in six months for a follow-up exam and two will be recommended to have a needle biopsy.

I Can’t Get a Mammograms Because I’m Breastfeeding

The Myth: “I can’t get a mammogram because I am breastfeeding. I guess I will have to wait until after I am done. Who knows when that will be? I may be pregnant again by that point.”

Although breast sensitivity is reduced because breast density increases with breastfeeding, mammograms are still recommended.

We save the most lives by not interrupting regular screening. The American College of Radiology’s new guidelines for pregnancy and lactation recommend continuing regular screening even if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

For breastfeeding mothers who are having a mammogram, we recommend that you pump before your mammogram. This can minimize discomfort and also makes the mammogram easier to read for the radiologist.

If you are pregnant, we provide a lead apron to shield your baby. Please be assured that the radiation to the baby is negligible.

Breast Cancer Doesn’t Run In My Family

The Myth: “I don’t need a mammogram! No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. Plus, I check my breasts in the shower every month so I will know when something is up.”

Mammograms are recommended even if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer. Nearly 75 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

Further, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death and is the leading cause of death in premenopausal women. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

You cannot rely solely on monthly breast self-exams. These monthly exams should be in addition to annual screening mammograms.

When we find cancers with a mammogram, they tend to be smaller and more treatable. The cancers that are felt are larger and can be more difficult to treat.

For example:

  • The average size of lump detected with a routine mammogram is about the size of a blueberry.
  • The average size of a lump detected with the first mammogram is about the size of a hazelnut.
  • The average size of lump found by regular breast self-exam is about the size of a small grape.
  • The average size of a lump found accidentally is about the size of a small strawberry.

The smaller the size of the tumor, the higher survival rate. Finding cancer when the tumor is smaller saves more lives.

Related Links

Breast cancer cannot be prevented but early detection can keep the disease from spreading and greatly increase your odds for a favorable outcome. The advanced three-dimensional mammography at University Hospitals can help find cancer earlier than other conventional methods. Learn more about mammograms at University Hospitals.

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