You probably know that a mammogram is one of the best tools for detecting breast cancer early. But even though mammograms have been used for decades, many women still don't know enough about the screening test, which can lead to a great deal of misinformation.
Here are some of the most widely spread myths surrounding mammograms—and our response to set the record straight so you get the preventive care you need.
Myth #1: They’re too dangerous to get during COVID-19
Essential screenings are still essential—especially during a pandemic. Don't let COVID-19 get in the way of taking care of your health. If you have concerns about your safety when going in for an appointment, there are questions you can ask ahead of time. Check your provider's website for their cleaning protocols, social distancing rules in the waiting room, and how doctors and other staff are using personal protective equipment (PPE). Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel comfortable enough to get there.
Myth #2: Mammograms are inaccurate and don't help
It’s true that mammograms are not 100% accurate. But mammography does correctly identify 87% of the women who have the disease, which makes them an incredibly useful tool for detection.
Denser breast tissue makes it more difficult to detect cancer, but technology is getting better all the time. On top of your mammogram, you can get other imaging tests like breast ultrasounds and breast MRIs if you have dense breast tissue that needs further evaluation.
Myth #3: No family history, no need
It might come as a surprise, but only 13-16% of women diagnosed have a first-degree female relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Don't hold off on setting up a mammogram because you don't have family members with breast cancer. Get in, and get it done.
Myth #4: Mammograms are only for women over 40
If you have a family history, it is advised to have a yearly mammogram starting no later than 10 years before the age of the earliest diagnosis in the family (but no earlier than age 25 and not later than age 40). Please speak with your doctor to determine the best time to start mammography.
Myth #5: Mammograms cause cancer
Not true. Yes, mammograms expose you to low-dose radiation, but less than in a standard chest X-ray. For most women, the benefits of regular mammograms far outweigh the risks. Don't shy away because of the tolerable radiation exposure.
Myth #6: Mammograms are always painful
Women joke all the time about the dreaded trip to “squeeze the girls.” But everyone’s pain threshold is different. For many, the awkward positioning around the machine and holding your breath during the X-ray is more uncomfortable than the squeeze itself. It also depends on where you are in your monthly cycle. Breasts can be more sensitive just before or during your period. If you're worried about your screening appointment, use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, before and during the procedure to help reduce stress and anxiety. Chances are, the less stressed you are, the more quickly your technician will be able to position you correctly to get good images.
Myth #7: You can only get 3D screening if you have a family history
3D mammograms, also called breast tomosynthesis, are increasingly used in a variety of cases. While traditional mammograms create a two-dimensional image of the breast, 3D mammograms take multiple images, or X-rays, of breast tissue to recreate a three-dimensional picture of the breast. It's particularly helpful for women with dense breast tissue, or if you are 65 years old or more.
Myth #8: You only need to go every two years
The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening mammograms for all women over 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74 years.
The decision to start screening mammography in women prior to age 50 years should be an individual one.Some women think that if they have a normal mammogram, they don't need another one. Mammograms are designed to detect, not prevent. Having a normal one does not mean that you will continue to have normal ones. If you can help it, don't skip years. Set your appointments around a memorable annual event, like your birthday, so you remember it's time to head back in for your annual squeeze.
Getting the preventive care you need
We can come up with all sorts of excuses for why it's a good idea to avoid getting a mammogram. Just don't let those excuses be based on fiction. Every woman is different and needs to be in close contact with her medical provider to decide the right time to start her mammogram regiment. Even during this unprecedented pandemic, don't let fear get in the way of getting a mammogram, either. Ease any anxiety by asking about the facility’s social distancing and sterilization practices. The bottom line is: Get there. You'll be glad you did.