Researchers at the National Cancer Institute estimate that about one out of every eight women born in the United States will develop breast cancer. This may be reason alone not to postpone a mammogram. But many women do.
A 2015 National Health Interview Survey found among women over 40, only half reported having a mammogram within the past year. Nearly one in three women age 55 and over aren’t getting mammograms at all.
The American Cancer Society recommends if you’re at average risk for breast cancer you should begin yearly mammograms by age 45 and then scale them back to every other year at age 55. The guidelines also state that if you prefer, you can start screenings as early as age 40.
So if you’re considering putting off your next mammogram, here are seven reasons not to do it.
1. Early Detection is Your Best Defense
Screening tests are done to identify cancer in its earliest stages. The earlier you detect a cancer, the better chance you have of beating it because treatments are more effective.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation identifies breast cancer early stages this way:
- Stage 0 breast cancer is non-invasive. Abnormal cells are in the lining of the breast milk duct, but have not spread outside of the ducts.
- Stage 1 breast cancer means cancer cells are evident, but it is contained to the area where the first abnormal cells began to develop.
When breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 100%.
2. Your Family History
Your family history may tell you if you’re at an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
If you have no first-degree relatives (parents, brother, sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is the same as the general population.
If you've had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk is doubled. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is five times higher than average. In some cases, a strong family history of breast cancer is linked to an abnormal gene associated with a high risk of breast cancer, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
For some women who are at high risk for breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends annual screening using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to mammograms beginning at age 30.
3. You’re Afraid of Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
Studies suggest that some women don't go for screening because they are afraid of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Another study found fear prompts other women to get a mammogram. Your doctor can help calm your fears.
4. You Feel Fit and Healthy
Some women choose not to go because they feel fit and healthy and don’t think they are at risk of developing breast cancer. The truth is breast cancer can start long before a tumor is big enough to feel. You still need to get checked and a routine screening should be on your list of healthy habits.
5. A Past False-Positive Result
Other research suggests some women put off going for a mammogram because of a false positive result. This means something is seen on the mammogram but it turns out not to be cancer. Being referred to a breast clinic for further tests can be worrying and deter women from getting future mammograms. But early detection is critical.
6. Discomfort During a Mammogram
For your radiologist to obtain the best views and have the best chance of identifying breast cancer early, it requires that the breast be compressed. Some women find this uncomfortable. High-density breast tissue may also make it more difficult to find potential problems.
However, mammograms are not painful, and any discomfort you might feel only lasts a few seconds. You can also let the mammographer know about any painful previous experiences with mammography and use the opportunity to provide feedback.
7. Technology is Getting Better
More and more doctors are using 3D mammography, which is especially helpful in finding cancer that may be hidden in dense breast tissue. It works by using X-ray to take multiple images at different angles and locations throughout the breast so that masses or lumps can be more clearly identified.