Mammography is a very safe procedure that uses low doses of radiation to produce high quality x-rays that help medical professionals identify and prevent breast cancer.
Mammography and Your Health
Lifesaving strategies get more important as you get older.
Breast cancer often makes itself known in its early stages, when there's a good chance for a cure. But here's the catch: You must be doing the right screenings to detect breast cancer. That includes monthly breast self-exams, regular clinical breast exams, and regular mammograms.
Yet many women still put off these exams for any number of reasons. If you have an excuse for not being tested, read on. The following reasons to get screened should help convince you that now is the time to take action.
Your risk increases as you age. Breast Cancer Undertreated in Older Patients
According to the American Cancer Society, roughly half of patients diagnosed with breast cancer are age 61 or older. Richard Zera, MD, Oncologist and Director of Hennepin’s Comprehensive Cancer Center says, "Women over 70 have the highest incidence of breast cancer. Early detection through screening mammography offers patients the most treatment options."
But a recent study published in the American Medical Association's Archives of Surgery suggests that breast cancer diagnosis is sometimes delayed in older patients because of the underuse of mammograms. In addition, aggressive therapy (such as chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapy) is not used as often as for younger patients. The researchers suggest that screenings and treatments should be based on each individual's health conditions, rather than age.
Why don’t older women get screening mammograms?
Jane Van Deusen-Morrison, the Breast Cancer Navigator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center says. "As to why women over age 60 do not get mammograms as often – it is the same for most screenings – fear, cost, time, transportation, denial: 'I am not having any problems,' 'never had a lump,' 'no one in my family has ever had cancer, breast cancer'."
The little inconvenience and discomfort of getting a mammogram is far outweighed by its big benefits. Regular breast screening exams are the number-one way to reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer. A mammogram takes about 20 minutes (the actual breast compression lasts for only a few seconds) and can bring great peace of mind. Only one or two mammograms in 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). And even if a cancerous lump is detected, if it's caught early and confined to the breast, the survival rate is more than 95 percent. The whole point of getting regular screening tests is to find the disease at its earliest, most treatable stage.
Screening mammograms are usually covered by your insurance provider.
There are also programs in Minnesota, such as the Sage Program at the Minnesota Department of Health that will cover mammograms and other preventive services.
A screening mammogram usually involves two images of each breast. For some patients, more images may be needed in order to see as much breast tissue as possible.
Diagnostic mammography involves additional views of the breast, and is used when an abnormality is found during a screening mammogram, or in women who have breast complaints or symptoms such as a breast lump, breast pain, or skin irritation.
3D Mammography – locations, benefits
Hennepin Healthcare offers advanced 3D mammography service. 3D mammography is similar to having a conventional mammogram but is proven to be more accurate. Like a traditional mammogram, 3D mammography takes images of your breast from multiple angles but is able to capture multiple images of the breast from several angles. Providers recommended 3D mammography in cases where increased accuracy is needed.
According to the American College of Radiology's Practice Parameter for the Performance of Screening and Diagnostic Mammography, the following are recommended indicators for getting a mammography screening:
- Annually for asymptomatic women age 40 and older who are at average risk for breast cancer.
- Asymptomatic women under age 40 who are at increased risk for breast cancer.
- Woman with known mutation or genetic syndrome with increased breast cancer risk: yearly starting by age 30, but not before age 25.
- Untested women with a first-degree relative with known BRCA mutation: yearly starting by age 30, but not before age 25.
- Women with a 20% or greater lifetime risk for breast cancer based on breast cancer risk models: yearly starting by age 30, but not before 25, or 10 years earlier than the age at which the youngest first-degree relative was diagnosed, whichever is later.
- Women with a history of chest (mantle) radiation received between the ages of 10 and 30: yearly starting 8 years after the radiation therapy, but not before the age 25.
- Woman with biopsy-proven lobular neoplasia, atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH), ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS), invasive breast cancer, or ovarian cancer: yearly from time of diagnosis, regardless of age.
- Age at which annual mammography screening should end.
- There are no defined upper age limit at which mammography may not be beneficial.
- Screening with mammography should be considered as long as the patient is in good health and is willing to undergo additional testing, including biopsy, if an abnormality is detected.
- If you have had mammograms in a different facility, arrange to have your previous mammograms, reports, and any treatment reports forwarded
- Do not wear deodorant, powder or cream under your arms as it may interfere with your mammogram images
- You will be asked to undress above the waist and will be given a gown to wear during your mammogram
- Your mammogram will be read by a radiologist
- A report will be sent to your provider
- A letter will also be sent to you with the result of your mammogram