5 Things You May Not Know About Mammograms

woman getting a mammogramIt seems like this year's Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been one of the most successful by far. Everywhere you look, there's PINK and Jennifer Aniston's Ford Cares T-shirt or a bakery donating proceeds from one of their cupcakes to breast cancer research. It's fantastic that the message is being spread so far and wide, and hopefully this means the campaign is accomplishing what it set out to: Encouraging women to get screened frequently and early enough so as to prevent breast cancer.

Although we might feel well-versed on mammograms, here are five not so widely known facts to know and share ...

  1. Mammograms aren't the be all and end all in breast cancer screening. Breasts among young women are often denser, which can make mammograms less accurate. So for women 30 to 39, ultrasound can be a great adjunct screening method. Similarly, thermography -- both the computerized regulation (CRT) and thermal imaging types -- are safe and effective clinical procedures that are used extensively in Europe and can help identify inflammation of breast tissue and/or the existence of breast tumors. You can talk to your doctor about whether these screenings or MRI (the most accurate method, according to experts) may be helpful in addition or as alternatives to mammograms.
  2. Stats show skipping your mammogram -- or waiting until you're 50 years old to have your first one -- is a no-no. Out of all women's lives saved by mammography, 40 percent are women in their 40s. And for women 50+ years old, skipping a mammogram every other year would miss up to 30 percent of cancers.
  3. Mammograms can detect breast cancer well before you or your doctor. Research shows mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Reminds us why Giuliana Rancic was wise to eventually go have a mammo before she turned 40! It's better to be safe than sorry, and it's better to detect early. Plus, just because you can't feel it doesn't mean the cancer's not there.
  4. The amount of radiation you receive from a mammogram really is no big deal. Some women are concerned about radiation from the screening year after year, and that's understandable, but the risk of harm from radiation exposure is extremely small, and the risk decreases significantly as a woman ages. The actual exposure of radiation during a mammo is about equivalent to that of having a dental exam.
  5. Your insurance could be open to covering annual mammos earlier than the age of 40, depending on your family history. This depends on what kind of insurance you have, but it is heartening to know that most insurance companies are beginning to recognize that women with first-degree relatives who have had breast cancer (mother or sister) need to be screened annually, beginning 10 years before the age their relative was diagnosed. The cost of a mammogram can vary from $75 to $600, and of course, your insurance coverage will depend on what type of mammography equipment is used and how many views need to be taken.

Did you know these facts about mammograms? What's something else you feel like women should know about the screening method?


Image via Army Medicine/Flickr

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