October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an excellent time to discuss why having a mammogram is important for women. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that is used to check for breast cancer.
Studies have shown that mammograms reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer for women ages 40 to 74, especially for women over age 50. All women over the age of 40 who are at average risk should have a mammogram every year. High risk factors can include having a mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Having dense breast tissue, early menstruation or late menopause, and other factors could put you at a somewhat higher risk of breast cancer. Only your doctor can determine whether your risk of breast cancer is higher than average, so be sure to consult with your doctor. If you are under 40 and have a higher risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether having a mammogram earlier is right for you; your doctor may recommend that if you are at high risk, get a yearly mammogram starting at age 30. The CDC says that it is possible for a mammogram to detect breast cancer up to three years before it can actually be felt. If breast cancer is detected early, treatment can be started earlier in the disease.
Sometimes women don’t get a mammogram because they don’t think it’s necessary, they think they don’t have time in their busy schedule to get one, they don’t know how much it costs or if it’s covered by their insurance, they don’t have a history of breast cancer in their family, or they’re scared to get a mammogram done. If you’ve been avoiding having a mammogram done for any reason, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Mammograms save lives, so please don’t wait—talk to your doctor to find out if you should be screened.
If you have access to an advocacy service such as Health Advocate through your employer, you can call that service to verify that your insurance benefits cover mammograms. Under the Affordable Care Act, mammograms and other preventive screenings are covered with no cost sharing for new health plans. An advocate can also find a doctor for you, set up an appointment for you to get a mammogram, and more.
Want to learn more? Check out the links below for resources on mammograms and breast cancer:
- The Susan G. Komen website has a comprehensive guide to mammograms–including types of mammograms, where mammograms are performed, when to expect to have your results back, and more.
- Learn about mammograms at Cancer.gov.
- The CDC’s breast cancer page talks about possible symptoms of breast cancer, mammograms, and more.
- The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month’s site talks about what to expect when you go for your mammogram.
- As always, if you have questions about mammograms and want to learn whether or not you should be getting screened, talk to your doctor.