The Truth about Mammograms

tech with patientA new study out this week showing that deaths due to breast cancer were higher among unscreened women has generated a lot of discussion around the importance of mammograms, especially among women in their 40s.

That study from Harvard Medical School in Boston showed that 71 percent of 609 women who had died from breast cancer were not getting regular mammograms. Of those deaths, 50 percent were women under age 50.

This information may help convince some of those who have been putting off getting a mammogram that it is time to make an appointment. Others may still be reluctant, holding on to myths and fears. Here are some of the most commons concerns we hear and the answers we give:

Myth: Mammograms are painful.

Although some women may experience a brief moment of discomfort, the exam shouldn’t be painful. At ella health, the techs will talk to you throughout the exam to ensure that you are comfortable. We also use a soft pad to reduce pressure. If you have had a bad experience, or are worried, let the tech know so she can work with you to ensure a better experience.

Myth: I don’t have health problems, so I don’t need an annual mammogram.

Mammograms can detect cancer long before there are any symptoms. In fact, a mammogram can reveal a lump up to three years before it becomes large enough to be felt.

Myth: There’s no history of breast cancer in my family, so I’m not at risk.

Most breast cancers occur in women with no history of breast cancer in their family. If a close relative has had cancer, you may be at greater risk, but not necessarily.  If there is a family history of cancer, you can talk to your doctor about your risks.

Myth: Radiation from mammograms creates health problems.

There are strict federal guidelines to ensure that mammogram equipment is safe and uses the lowest dose of radiation possible. During a mammogram, a patient is exposed to roughly the same amount of radiation as a traveler on a commercial flight from New York to California, according to the American Cancer Society.

Myth: Mammograms generate a lot of false alarms.

Occasionally, a patient may be asked to return for more testing that shows there is no cancer. The number of these false positives has been reduced with the introduction several years ago of digital mammograms. The number is dropping even further because of advanced 3D imaging developed by Hologic. This system takes multiple images that give doctors a clearer picture of the breast. This has helped increase the number of cancers detected and reduced the number of false alarms.

3D imaging is available at ella health in Lemoyne, PA, and Toms River, NJ. You can find providers of 3D mammograms in other areas on Hologic’s website.

Myth: Mammograms will take a long time.

The exam itself takes just a few minutes and we manage the schedule so you won’t be kept waiting long.

Myth: It takes a long time to schedule a mammogram appointment.

At ella health, you can get an appointment within days and sometimes on the same day as you call. You can set up the appointment months in advance if it’s easier for you, but you don’t have to.

Keep in mind that mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer, but they are the best technology available to detect cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. The American Cancer Society recommends getting an annual mammogram starting at age 40. You can request an appontment on line at ella health.

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