Mammograms remain the most important tool for diagnosing breast cancer in its earliest stages for most women, yet many women skip their routine mammogram appointments or avoid having them altogether. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to mark that event, we’re dedicating this post to raising awareness about the importance of regular mammograms — and, hopefully, to motivating at least some of our patients to schedule a mammogram or a clinical breast exam today.
How do mammograms find breast cancer?
Mammograms are currently the best technique for diagnosing breast cancer early, and early treatment is the key to optimal outcomes. In a mammogram, your breast is placed in a special machine between two plates. The plates move together to compress your breast tissue, so it’s easier for the X-ray to obtain a clear image. Once the images are created, they’re stored on a computer where they can be viewed and analyzed by the radiologist and your doctor.
Mammograms look for tiny lumps or other changes in your breast tissue, including areas of tissue that appear more dense than the surrounding tissue. These abnormal areas show up whiter and brighter than the surrounding area. When abnormal tissue is found, you might have a follow-up mammogram, a more detailed imaging test called tomosynthesis, or a breast biopsy to extract a small amount of tissue for microscopic examination.
Who should have a mammogram?
Most medical agencies agree women should at least consider having routine mammograms in their 40s, especially women who have risk factors for breast cancer. In fact, women who have known breast cancer risks might benefit from even earlier screenings. Some medical groups recommend annual mammograms beginning at age 40, even in women who don’t have known risk factors. Others say annual screening can wait until a woman is in her mid-40s. Why the discrepancy? Because the risk of breast cancer is lower for most women in their 40s, but that doesn’t mean it’s rare. At the very least, all women in their 40s should discuss their need for regular mammograms with their doctors.
As you get older, the benefits of having routine mammograms become more significant. Data from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found that for women in their 50s, having regular mammograms was associated with a 14% reduction in breast cancer deaths. And for women in their 60s, routine mammograms reduced the risk of breast cancer death by 33%. That’s a major benefit for a simple, noninvasive screening test that takes less than a half hour. Most medical groups agree having a mammogram every year or every two years is important for women who are 50 or older.
Why regular mammograms are important
It bears repeating: Mammograms have been shown to reduce the risks associated with breast cancer, including breast cancer death. Having regular mammograms is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your own breast-cancer-related risks. But there's more: Having mammograms every year or every two years, depending on your age, provides you doctor with an ongoing record of your breasts that can be used for comparison in subsequent years. That kind of side-by-side comparison may also be useful in spotting tiny aberrations in tissue that could indicate an early stage of cancer.
And finally, when breast cancer is caught early, treatment can be a lot less intense. That means you're far more likely to enjoy the best results with the least amount of stress and discomfort. Bottom line: You should talk to your doctor about your need for mammograms, so you can make sure to start screening as early as possible. And once you decide on the frequency of your mammograms, be sure to keep those appointments.
Schedule your mammogram today
Now that you know why it's so important to have regular mammograms once you're in your 40s, it's time to take action. At Primary Care Walk-In Medical Clinic, we perform mammography using the most advanced technology, so you can feel confident your screening is as accurate as possible. Take the next step toward better breast health and book an appointment online today.