You Really Do Need That Mammogram
Maybe you’ve skipped your mammogram once or twice. There are good reasons not to. Regular mammograms have reduced breast cancer deaths by 40 percent since screening began in the mid-1980s, according to the American College of Radiology.
Mammograms arm you against breast cancer
A mammogram is a safe, low-dose X-ray of the breast tissue. If you have a tumor, it will likely show up as bright dense blotch on the X-ray. You can get your regular mammogram screening at no extra cost as part of your Florida Blue Medicare health plan, when you use a network provider. Because Florida Blue Medicare Advantage plans follow Medicare guidelines, members who have Medicare due to disability or end-stage renal disease may not qualify for mammography screening, or they may not qualify for yearly screening. Check your plan’s Evidence of Coverage to be sure. Florida Blue Medicare Advantage members can earn HealthyBlue Rewards for getting a yearly mammogram.
Even if you are doing a monthly self-exam or your doctor does regular clinical breast exams, you should still get your mammogram. That’s because a mammogram can find tumors before you can feel them.
Here are some reasons to NOT skip this important screening:
- Breast cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in the U.S. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
- Three out of every four women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history or risk factors for the disease.
- Early detection of breast cancer will improve your odds for survival.
- New 3D mammogram technology has improved the rate of detecting cancer.
- Mammograms find tumors when they are still small, in some cases, years before they can be felt. Mammograms also show clusters of calcium and lumps that can affect your health in other ways.
- Finding tumors when they are small gives you better odds for less surgery, less toxic chemotherapy and less radiation treatment.
- A mammogram is the only test shown to lower deaths caused by breast cancer.
What happens if your mammogram shows something abnormal?
Women typically get their first mammogram when they are between the ages of 40 and 50, and then every one to two years after that. Even older women benefit from the screening.
Guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommend mammograms continue through the age of 74. Research suggests there may be value in getting screened beyond that, as long as you are in good health. A 2018 study by the University of Rochester’s Medical Center reviewed mammograms of over a half-million women. The researchers found cancer was detected at a higher rate in women 75 and older than in women belonging to younger age groups. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to schedule your mammograms, based on your history and your health.
If your mammogram shows an abnormal finding, don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Out of every 100 women who get screening mammograms, 10 will be called back for additional tests to rule out cancer. In most cases, follow-up tests show there are no signs of cancer. Or, they may show a benign (non-cancerous) condition exists.
Your follow-up test may include a second mammogram, referred to as a “diagnostic mammogram.” It’s important to know the difference between a preventative (screening) mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram, because you may be billed differently under your Medicare health plan.
Are these mammogram myths holding you back?
Even with a doctor’s recommendation and a mountain of medical evidence, many women don’t get mammograms as often as they should. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 34 percent of women over 40 hadn’t had a mammogram in the last two years.
So, what’s holding us up? Here are some common myths about mammograms, and some facts that debunk them:
- Myth: The radiation from a mammogram will give me cancer. Truth: Your risk of getting breast cancer is much higher than your risk of being harmed by a mammogram. The radiation exposure you get from a mammogram is a very low dose. It’s about the same as you would get from a round-trip flight to Paris.
- Myth: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need a mammogram. Truth: If you wait until you have symptoms, your cancer will likely be more advanced. Early stage breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Late-stage breast cancer five-year survival rates are as low as 27 percent.
- Myth: My mammogram was normal last year, so I don’t need another one. Truth: That’s great, but it’s no guarantee you won’t have breast cancer in the future. With regular mammograms, if you do get cancer, it’s more likely it will be caught when the tumor is still small.
- Myth: Mammograms produce a lot of false positives. Truth: If your mammogram shows an abnormality, you will be called back for more imaging tests, and possibly a biopsy, to rule out cancer. A few decades ago, women with suspicious abnormalities had to undergo surgery to confirm a cancer diagnosis. Today, doctors use a needle biopsy, which is much less invasive.
- Myth: Mammograms hurt. Truth: It’s necessary to compress the breast during a mammogram in order to get a clear image. There is some discomfort, especially if you have sensitive breasts. But the test goes quickly and a skilled radiologist can help you relax.
Getting your regularly scheduled mammogram could save your life, and technology advances are making mammograms more effective than ever. Someone you love is counting on you to stay healthy. Make sure you get your next mammogram on time.
Filed under: Medicare