Breast cancer screening is an attempt to find cancer before she has any symptoms.  A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast.  Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.

What is breast cancer?  Breast Cancer is a form of cancer that attacks the cells of the breast.

Your options:

  • To have a screening mammogram
  • Not to have a screening mammogram

Risk factors for Breast Cancer 

  • Being younger when you had your first menstrual period.
  • Never giving birth, or being older at the birth of your first child.
  • Starting menopause at a later age.
  • Using hormone replacement therapy for a long time.
  • Being aged 50 or older.
  • A mother or sister with breast cancer, especially if they learned they had breast cancer before age 50.
  • A breast cancer gene known as BRCA1 or BRCA2.
  • Repeated Radiation to Chest due to treatment of disease.
  • Having a previous breast tissue sample (biopsy) that showed cells that look abnormal (atypical hyperplasia).

Benefits of having a Mammogram

Catching cancer at an early stage and simpler treatment.  Mammograms reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer.  By finding breast cancer at an early stage, mammograms allow for early cancer treatment that can increase the chance of a cure.  Mammograms are more effective in older than younger women.  Women in their 40’s tend to have denser breasts, making it more difficult to find breast cancers in women in this age group compared to older women.

Peace of mind.  You may feel less worried when you know that you do not have cancer on your screening mammogram

Risks of having a Screening Mammogram

False-positive results.  A false-positive result occurs when a mammogram is abnormal but there is no cancer.  An abnormal mammogram usually requires additional imaging (diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or MRI) and possibly a breast biopsy.  If an abnormal mammogram is not cancer, this additional testing may seem unnecessary, inconvenient and physically uncomfortable.

Over diagnosis and unnecessary treatment.  Screening mammograms often find a slow-growing breast cancers and non-invasive breast cancers.  These cancers have chemotherapy and radiation-may seems unnecessary.  However, it is very difficult to predict whether a cancer will be life-threatening, so almost all cancers that are found will be treated.

False-negative results.  A false-negative result occurs when a mammogram is normal but a woman truly has breast cancer.  Mammograms are not perfect.  Some breast cancers will be missed by screening.

Radiation exposure:  Your exposure to radiation from screening mammograms will depend on the number of mammograms you have had.  X-ray technologists are experts in breast positioning and know how to reduce the amount of radiation you receive.  The amount of radiation that you get from a screening mammogram is almost the same as the amount you would receive over 3 months from your usual surroundings (e.g. sun, rocks, soil, buildings, air and food).  The benefits of early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer far outweigh the risk of being exposed to the small amount of radiation from a screening mammogram

Points to Remember

  • Who should have a mammogram:  Most women who are 50-74 years old should have a screening mammogram every two years.  Women, who are ages 40-49, should discuss with their provider what/if any risk factors that would determine a screening mammogram is needed.
  • Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for most women.  Some find it painful. A mammogram takes only a few moments, though, and the discomfort is over soon.
  • Each woman’s mammogram may look a little different.  A doctor with special training, called a radiologist, will read the mammogram.  He or she will look at the x-ray for early signs of breast cancer or other problems.
  • Screening mammograms are usually a benefit that insurance companies provide, which means no cost to the patient.  Please check with your insurance company to see if there are any costs.