Mammograms can help spot a problem before it becomes a serious health worry. So why do many women put off scheduling the test?
They’re too busy. They don’t want to miss work. They don’t want to find a new doctor or new testing center. They have trouble finding someone to watch their children or an older adult they can’t leave alone.
They’re afraid. They fear radiation from a mammogram. They fear finding they have cancer. Or they’re in denial. It can’t happen to them. Or mammograms are only for older women.
Some buy into myths about breast cancer. No lump, no cancer. No family history of breast cancer, no risk. Or they think their healthy lifestyle makes mammograms unnecessary.
Excuses, fear and denial don’t cut it when it comes to taking care of your health. More than 1 million people in the U.S. get cancer each year. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among American women, second only to skin cancers. About 1 in 8 women will get invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.
Getting routine screening tests is the best way women can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about your total health, risk factors and family medical history. Those are the things that will determine the best testing plan for you. More information on breast cancer is available from the American Cancer Society.
Tips for Getting It Done
Consider making a day of it. Find a friend or family member who also needs a mammogram and schedule appointments for the same time. Then add lunch or another fun outing to your day. Or trade caregiving duties with a friend who also needs to catch up on her health appointments.
You can also find ways to make the appointment work better for your schedule. If you have a hard time getting away from work, ask about evening or Saturday appointments. Ask what days and times are best for short waits. And see if you can get your paperwork ahead of time to fill in before your appointment, or ask if you can do it online.
And if concerns about cost are holding you back, don’t worry. Mammograms are covered at no cost when the services are provided by a provider in your health plan’s network.*
Don’t Put It Off
Preventive screenings are a big part of fighting breast cancer. They can help spot the disease early, when it’s easier to treat. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force urges women age 50 or older to have a mammogram every two years. Other respected groups call for yearly testing.
If you are a woman age 20 or older, talk to your doctor about clinical breast exams. If you are over the age of 40, discuss the benefits and risks of having a clinical breast exam and mammogram.
Your doctor may want you to start these screenings earlier if you have a family history of breast or other cancers.
Mammograms aren’t perfect. They may miss some cancers. And you may need more tests to learn if something found during a mammogram is cancer.
Still, decades of research show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early. That makes them less likely to need aggressive treatment like surgery and chemo. And they are more likely to be cured.
An abnormal mammogram report does not always mean there is cancer. But you’ll need to have more tests or exams to find out.
If your results are normal, continue to get mammograms based on the plan you’ve set with your doctor.
Protect your health.
A yearly well-woman exam and regular mammograms are key steps toward good overall health. If you haven’t scheduled your yearly exam or spoken to your doctor about the right testing plan for you, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: 6 Breast Cancer Myths You Should Stop Believing This Instant, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 2015; Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosis, American Cancer Society; How Common Is Breast Cancer? American Cancer Society, 2017; What Is a Mammogram?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2016; Basic Information About Breast Cancer, CDC, 2016; U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, Breastcancer.org, 2017; Breast Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention, American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2017; Breast Cancer Prevention: How to Reduce Your Risk, Mayo Clinic, 2016