Radiation Risk from Mammograms Is Minimal

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The average woman is likely to have dozens of mammograms over the course of her life. This has led to some concern about harmful effects from scatter radiation -- the x-rays that travel outward in different directions, away from the mammogram’s primary beam.

So it’s reassuring to know that new research findings show that the scatter radiation dose is extremely low and offers little risk.

The study, “Scatter radiation dose during screening mammography to the thyroid gland, salivary gland, lens of eye, sternum, and uterus,” was presented at the 2012 Radiological Society of North America Annual Meeting.

More than 200 women wore radiation-measuring devices during a digital screening mammogram. The devices allowed the researchers to measure the amount of radiation received by areas of the body away from the breast: the salivary gland, sternum, thyroid gland, lens of the eye, and uterus.

In all cases, the average amount these areas received was extremely low: less than 2% of what you’re exposed to every day from the environment.

The researchers concluded that scatter radiation from screening mammography is unlikely to cause any health risks. They found no evidence that it would increase the risk for cancer, even in areas of the body known to be sensitive to radiation such as the thyroid. The researchers also said that thyroid shields, which can protect the thyroid but reduce the quality of mammograms, aren’t needed during mammography because the scatter radiation dose is so low.

These findings should help reassure anyone who’s worried about the radiation received during screening mammography.

If you're 40 or older and have an average risk of breast cancer, yearly screening mammograms should be part of your healthcare. If your breast cancer risk is higher than average, you should talk to your doctor about a more aggressive breast cancer screening plan that makes the most sense for your particular situation.

There's only one of you and you deserve the best care possible. Don't let any obstacles get in the way of your regular screening mammograms:

  • If you're worried about cost, talk to your doctor, a local hospital social worker, or staff members at a mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
  • If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, call the National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (800-227-5463) to find certified mammogram providers near you.
  • If you find mammograms painful, ask the mammography center staff members how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for you.

For more information, visit the Breastcancer.org Mammograms pages.

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