Mammograms are the single most effective tool in detecting early breast cancers.
The simple screenings – basically a series of x-rays of the breast and surrounding area – are proven to save lives, but many women put them off or avoid getting a mammogram together.
These are some of the common reasons women avoid mammograms.
1. “I don’t have time for a mammogram.”
Getting your mammogram should take only about half an hour.
“It takes 10 minutes to register and 10 to 20 minutes to get a mammogram,” said Vicki Shanklin, manager of breast center operations at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.
Walk-in hours are available in several OSF HealthCare locations to make getting a mammogram even easier.
2. “I can’t afford a mammogram.”
Contact your insurance provider if you have questions about whether your screening will be covered. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Medicaid and Medicare cover regular screenings, as do most commercial insurance companies. In Illinois, insurers are required to offer coverage for a baseline screening after age 35 and annual mammograms for women over 40.
3. “Mammograms are painful.”
Mammograms may be uncomfortable but should not be painful.
“Your technologist will work with you, and if it ever reaches the point that it’s painful, please just tell your tech. She will stop compression or re-position you. She will work with you to make you as comfortable as possible while still getting excellent imaging for the early detection of breast cancer,” Shanklin said.
4. “I’m afraid. What if they find something?”
Calcifications, fibroadenomas and cysts are all changes to the breast tissue that may require further testing. Usually they are identified as benign, or harmless, and no further treatment is needed.
“The benefit of annual screening mammography is to look for changes from year to year. That’s how we look for early cancer,” Shanklin said, but many times, changes to breast tissue are benign of even normal signs of aging.
5. “Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family.”
While certain factors – including a family history of breast, ovarian or other various cancers – can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, they are not the only issues to consider.
“Most cancers that we diagnose are in women with no risk factors at all. The fact that you are a woman, and aging, are still your most prevalent risks for breast cancer,” Shanklin said.
If you wonder what your risk factors are, you can take an online risk assessment, or schedule a more in-depth risk assessment with the OSF HealthCare Center for Breast Health, which includes genetic testing and plans for treatment or surveillance for women at high risk of developing breast cancer.
6. “I’ve had normal mammograms in the past? Why do I need to keep going back?”
Annual screenings are an important tool in detecting cancers early, before they have a chance to spread.
“The time to find something is when it’s tiny, before you ever feel it. The smaller it is, the easier it is to remove it or treat it,” Shanklin said.
7. “Mammograms are for older women.”
All women age 40 and up should get a yearly screening mammogram, but some women may benefit from getting them even sooner.
“Talk with your doctor on their risk factors and anxiety levels. Some women worry and just want to know. If you have a family history, you’ll want to start your mammography 10 years prior to when your loved one was diagnosed.”