The truth about mammograms
Commentary by James Smith, MD, IU Health Physicians Women’s Health – North
While regular mammograms are a recommended part of preventive healthcare, some women delay scheduling them for a variety of reasons. Understanding the facts – and dispelling the myths – of mammography can help relieve anxiety and shed light on why undergoing regular screening mammograms is so important.
Family history – Most women diagnosed with breast cancer – nearly 85 percent – have no family history of the disease. If breast cancer does run in your family, you’re at increased risk of developing it. Talk with your doctor about your family history and any other risk factors you may have.
Age – For all women, increasing age is a risk factor for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older have annual screening mammograms. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests screening every two years for women ages 50 to 74. Discuss these guidelines with your doctor. He or she can help determine, based on your medical history and personal risk factors, when and how often you should have mammograms.
Pain and discomfort – Some women put off scheduling mammograms because they’ve heard they are painful. The test takes just a few minutes, and any discomfort you may feel is brief. To help minimize discomfort, schedule the test after your period ends when your breasts are less sensitive. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever before the appointment to alleviate pain.
No breast problems or lumps – Mammograms can detect small tumors up to three years before they can be felt. Treatment is most effective when breast cancer is diagnosed in the early stages.
Concern about radiation – While mammograms do expose women to radiation, the amount is quite low and presents little risk. Mammograms are considered safe and effective for diagnosing breast cancer early, which leads to a better chance for cure.
Be sure to see your doctor if you notice any changes in your breasts, such as lumps, thickening or discharge. In your efforts to engage in preventive care for your good health, consider the importance of regular mammograms.
James Smith, MD, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Women’s Health – North, 11725 N. Illinois St., Ste. 350, in Carmel. He can be reached by calling 688-5200.