Benefits of Mammography
Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer, but can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. For example, mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women over the age of 50. In women between ages 40 and 50, the risk reduction appears to be less. However, leading experts, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Radiology, as well as our doctors at Mission Hope Cancer Center still recommend annual screening mammograms for asymptomatic women 40 and older.
Diagnostic mammograms may be indicated when there is a specific concern related to a breast mass, redness, axillary lymph nodes, certain types of nipple changes or discharge, skin changes or for follow-up of a previous mammographic abnormality.
Finding breast cancers early with mammography has also meant that many more women being treated for breast cancer are able to keep their breasts by having lumpectomy. When caught early, localized cancers can be removed without resorting to breast removal (mastectomy).
The main risk of mammograms is that they aren’t perfect. Normal breast tissue can hide a breast cancer so that it doesn't show up on the mammogram. This is called a false negative. Mammography can also identify an abnormality that looks like a cancer, but turns out to be normal. This "false alarm" is called a false positive. Besides worrying about being diagnosed with breast cancer, a false positive means more tests and follow-up visits, which can be stressful. To make up for these limitations, additional testing is often needed. Women also need to have an early detection plan by practicing breast self-examination, getting regular breast examinations by an experienced health care professional, and, in some cases as recommended by their physician, have another form of breast imaging, such as ultrasound or breast MRI.
In April 2013 a new law will go into effect that mandates that women, who are found to have dense breasts on mammography, must be notified of this finding. Dense breast tissue can make finding a cancer more difficult, so depending on physical exam and family history, other imaging tests may be recommended by a specialist.
Some women wonder about the risks of radiation exposure due to mammography. Modern-day mammography only involves a tiny amount of radiation — even less than a standard chest x-ray
1. They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25-30% or more. Women should begin having screening mammograms yearly at age 40, or earlier if they are at higher risk. Discuss this with your doctor. If you have a family history of breast cancer, screening should begin at an age 10 years prior to the age that the youngest person in your family was diagnosed with the breast cancer.
2. Don't be afraid. Mammography is a fast procedure (less than 20 minutes), and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram.
3. Get the best quality you can. Marian Breast Imaging offers the best quality digital imaging available with added computer-aided detection (CAD). Digital mammography improves visibility and image quality of breast tissue leading to the detection of smaller abnormalities in the breast for better overall outcomes for the patient.
4. Mammography is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. However, mammograms can still miss 10% of breast cancers that are simply not visible using this technique. Other important tools — such as breast self-exam, clinical breast examination, and possibly ultrasound or MRI — can and should be used as complementary tools, but there are no substitutes or replacements for a mammogram.
5. An unusual result requiring further testing does not always mean you have breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10% of women (1 in 10) who have a mammogram will require more tests. Only 8-10% of these women will need a biopsy, and about 80% of these biopsies will turn out not to be cancer. It’s normal to worry if you get called back for more testing, but try not to assume the worst until you have more information.
There have been myths about mammograms that you might have heard about on the Internet. One of these myths is that the pressure from mammograms on a malignant tumor can break it open and cause it to metastasize. There is absolutely no evidence for this claim. In fact, not getting a mammogram or not exerting enough compression during a mammogram will increase the risk of a delayed diagnosis, resulting in a higher risk of metastatic disease (cancer that has moved outside of the breast to other areas of the body).
Age 20 to age 39:
- Monthly breast self-exam
- Clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider every three years
Age 40 and older:
- Monthly breast self-exam
-Yearly screening mammogram
-Yearly clinical breast exam by a healthcare provider
If you are at high risk for breast cancer, with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or have had radiation treatment to the chest in the past, it's recommended that you start having annual mammograms at a younger age. This, however, is something that you should discuss with your health care provider.
Call Marian Breast Imaging today to schedule your next mammogram appointment. The expert staff will take the time to make your experience a pleasant one. 805.346.3490
Call our dedicated Breast Nurse Navigator at 805.346.3405 to get started on your early detection plan.
“”The importance of mammography is to find breast cancers at the smallest possible size, when they have the best chance of cure!”
Monica Rocco, M.D., Breast Specialist