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Busting mammography myths

People avoid mammograms for all kinds of reasons, maybe a lack of knowledge, insurance or access. But often, their decision to put off getting screened for breast cancer isn’t based on fact. Before we dive into mammography myths, let's talk about what a mammography is.

What is a mammogram?

A mammography is the best tool we have available to detect breast cancer early. A 2-D mammogram creates flat images of your breast tissue. While in a 3-D mammogram, the camera moves in an arc over your breast taking multiple 3-D images, which can decrease breast tissue overlap. In both instances, your breast is compressed between two panels while digital X-rays take the images. Read more about breast cancer screening in Breasts are 3 dimensional, and now so is your mammogram.

If you are a current patient, you can schedule your mammogram online using your Allina Health account. If you are new to Allina Health, call the clinic location near you to schedule.

Nine mammogram myths:

  1. Mammograms don’t help. In truth, mammograms save lives. A 2018 study found that women who participated in a breast cancer screening program had a 60 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer in the 10 years after diagnosis than women who weren’t screened. Yet, only 65 percent of American women eligible for screening mammography have had an exam in the past two years.
  2. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I don’t need to be screened. According to the American Cancer Society, 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer.
  3. Mammograms cause cancer. We are exposed to natural sources of radiation, such as radon, solar, cosmic and others, just by living on the earth. Mammography uses a very low dose of radiation, about the equivalent of seven weeks of exposure to background radiation, and there is no evidence that breast compression causes cancer.
  4. Mammograms hurt.  Compression separates the breast tissue allowing the radiologist to see small abnormalities better. For most women, compression feels tight but is bearable because it only lasts a short time. Talk to your technologist if it becomes too uncomfortable.
  5. Women with breast implants should not have a mammogram. Please inform your technologist that you have breast implants so they can adjust how the images are taken.
  6. Transgender people don’t need a mammogram. Screening for transgender people is recommended if they take or have taken estrogen and progestin for five years or more if they are obese or have a family history of breast cancer. Please talk with your doctor.
    • All lumps are cancer. Most lumps are not cancer, but only your doctor can help determine this. If you find a lump, check with your doctor.
    • Mammograms are unreliable. Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer and can find it two to three years before it can be felt on a manual breast examination.
    • I don’t need to start thinking about mammograms until I’m at least 50. When to start having mammograms, and how often to have them, is a personal decision based on your preferences, values and risk for developing breast cancer that you and your provider should make together.

    When to get a mammogram

    When to start having mammograms is a personal decision that should be based on your preferences, values and risk for developing breast cancer. We recommend the following guidelines for women who have an average risk for breast cancer, based on American Cancer Society guidelines:

    • Age 25: Have a risk assessment for breast cancer with your health care provider.
    • Age 40 - 44: Mammograms are optional. Consider having a mammogram every year with your decision informed by a shared decision making process with your health care provider.
    • Age 45 - 54: Have a mammogram every year.
    • Age 55 and older: Have a mammogram every year or transition to having one every two years. Continue to have mammograms as long as your healthy.

    Your health care provider may recommend a different schedule if you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about your risk level.

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