Mammograms, along with regular breast self exam (BSE), are one of the best ways to diagnose breast cancer early, when it's most treatable. Research shows that regular mammograms and BSE translate into more women surviving breast cancer. In an ideal world, EVERY woman over 40 would have regular mammograms.
The results of a large study (more than 10,000 women participated) are very alarming. The study was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of women older than 40 who had a mammogram in the past 2 years dropped from 70% to 66%. This trend could mean that more breast cancers are diagnosed later, when the disease is harder to treat. This means that more women are likely to die from the disease.
Why are mammogram rates going down? Some reasons might be:
- Conflicting information about the importance of regular mammograms. Some doctors have questioned the value of regular mammograms for women under 50. This has caused some women to put off getting a mammogram. Breastcancer.org believes that all women older than 40 benefit from regular mammograms.
- Cost. If you don't have insurance, you may not be able to afford a mammogram. Free screening programs do exist, but may be hard to find.
- Access. In many places in the United States it’s become harder to schedule and get a mammogram that's timely and convenient.
- Comfort. Some women find getting a mammogram very uncomfortable and painful. This may stop them from getting another mammogram.
But the bottom line is that mammograms are about your health and your life, so you need to do the right thing.
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 mammogram center. Ask about free programs in your area.
If you're having problems scheduling a mammogram, look around. 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.
If you find getting a mammogram painful, ask the mammography center staff members how the experience can be as easy and as comfortable as possible for 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.
There's only one of you and you deserve the best care possible, which means regular mammograms.