Mammograms, along with regular breast self-exam, are one of the best ways to diagnose breast cancer early, when it's most treatable. In an ideal world, EVERY woman over 40 would have regular mammograms. We're not there yet, which is troubling. Even more troubling is the decrease in women older than 40 who get regular mammograms.
It's not clear why the percentage has decreased. Two barriers might be at work: cost and access. Some women may not be able to afford the cost of a mammogram and free screening programs may be hard to find. Access—the ability to get a mammogram that's timely and convenient—may be the bigger reason for the decline in mammograms. The study reviewed here says that centers that perform mammograms face a number of difficult challenges. These challenges make it harder for the centers to offer mammograms in a timely and convenient way for a growing and aging population of women.
No single person can change the access problem overnight. But there are some things to keep in mind about mammograms:
- If you're over 40, skipping regular mammograms is NOT an option. Stick with the mammogram screening plan you and your doctor decide is best for you.
- If you're worried about the cost, talk to someone who can advise and help you: your doctor, a local hospital social worker, or staff members at a local mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
- If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, shop around. It might feel strange to go to an unfamiliar center or to have to travel a bit, but skipping a mammogram is NOT an option. You can call the National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (800-227-5463) to find certified mammogram providers near you.
- In between mammograms, remember to perform regular breast self-exams. Tell your doctor right away if you find anything you're concerned about. If you need information about how to do a self-exam, ask your doctor.