Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Get a mammogram

“Every woman needs to know the facts. And the fact is, when it comes to breast cancer, every woman is at risk.” — Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Representative for Florida's 23rd congressional district and the Chair of the Democratic National Committee

A WEEK AGO I had a 3-D mammogram. I was nervous because I had been negligent and not had a mammogram for probably five years. Most unwise.

Thankfully, all is normal.

I'm using this circumstance to encourage all women past 40 to get a mammogram now.

Below are some basic facts about the importance of mammograms, gleaned from the website breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to providing the most reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer."

(PS: For women in the Des Moines area, 3-D mammograms are no extra cost at Broadlawns Hospital.)





Mammography: Benefits, Risks, What You Need to Know

Mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer, but they can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. For example, mammograms have been shown to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women over the age of 50. In women between ages 40 and 50, the risk reduction appears to be somewhat less.

The value of screening mammograms was questioned in November 2009 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that routine screening mammograms for women with an average risk of breast cancer should start at age 50 instead of age 40. The recommended changes were very controversial and were not universally adopted.

Since that time, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all have issued guidelines saying that all women should be eligible for screening mammograms starting at age 40.

Five important things to know about mammograms

1.  They can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25-30% or more. Women should begin having mammograms yearly at age 40, or earlier if they're at high risk.

2.  Don't be afraid. Mammography is a fast procedure (about 20 minutes), and discomfort is minimal for most women. The procedure is safe: there's only a very tiny amount of radiation exposure from a mammogram. To relieve the anxiety of waiting for results, go to a center that will give you results before you leave.


3.  Get the best quality you can. If you have dense breasts or are under age 50, try to get a digital mammogram. A digital mammogram is recorded onto a computer so that doctors can enlarge certain sections to look at them more closely.

4.  Mammography is our most powerful breast cancer detection tool. However, mammograms can still miss 20% of breast cancers that are simply not visible using this technique. Other important tools — such as breast self-exam, clinical breast examination, and possibly ultrasound or MRI — can and should be used as complementary tools, but there are no substitutes or replacements for a mammogram.


5.  An unusual result requiring further testing does not always mean you have breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 10% of women (1 in 10) who have a mammogram will require more tests. Only 8-10% of these women will need a biopsy, and about 80% of these biopsies will turn out not to be cancer. It’s normal to worry if you get called back for more testing, but try not to assume the worst until you have more information.

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