The fact of the matter is - no one looks forward to medical testing, particularly when the testing may have a result the patient may not want to hear. This is one of the number one reasons that patients put off necessary tests such as colonoscopies and mammograms, even though they could be life-saving diagnostics. Maybe you’ve never heard a breast exam or mammogram before, or perhaps you had an unpleasant one in the past and don’t care to repeat the experience. No matter the reason for your wariness - perhaps you need a little bit of encouragement this time around. Read on to learn more about the myths and truths of mammograms, more about breast cancer and why you need to schedule a mammogram, and why getting a mammogram can be life-saving.
The Excuses and Myths of Mammograms
There are quite a few reasons that women avoid mammograms. One of the most common ones is “ignorance is bliss,” and unfortunately, there’s no myth-buster to knock that notion - just know that you’re better off finding out sooner than later if there is something wrong. Early detection when it comes to breast cancer can not only make a difference in survival rates but can also make a difference in other factors when it comes to the difference between serious surgery like mastectomy or simple removal of a lump.
Another common misconception or reason mammograms are avoided, is lack of time. Everyone is busy in the modern age - especially working women and moms in their 40s, which is right around the time you need to start scheduling a yearly mammogram. However, a mammogram should take no more time than your yearly physical. In fact, it may even take less time. If you’re truly in a time crunch, try to schedule first thing in the morning or last thing at the end of the day, and you’ll likely be in and out in less than an hour. The actual procedure takes less than 10 minutes to complete. If you’ve had a mammogram before and the radiology lab already has your information on file, you may even be out sooner.
Women also worry about the cost of mammograms. Unless you have no insurance at all if you’re 40 and over, your mammogram should be covered by your insurance company. If you are in a situation where your insurance has lapsed, or you do not have insurance, there are public and private programs available to cover the cost of mammograms. In Mississippi, this is covered by the State Department of Health for women aged 40 to 49.
Pain isn’t exactly a mammogram myth. Mammograms are indeed uncomfortable. However, like any other X-ray or radiology test, the test only takes a very brief amount of time and is over very quickly.
How to Prepare for a Mammogram
It’s essential to prepare for your mammogram. This is important if you’re worried about the time factor and also a good idea if it’s your first one, so you know what to expect. For instance, if you apply powder or lotion, you may have to return on a different day, as it may alter the results of the test, and you may be sent home.
Be sure that you wear a two-piece outfit on the day of your mammogram and not a dress. This is because you’ll have to disrobe from the waist up, and you likely don’t want to disrobe completely. You’ll wear a gown that covers your top half until you go to the X-ray room with the technician.
Make sure that you bring your insurance card with you to the radiology appointment. Since this is often separate from your regular doctor’s office or regular OB/GYN clinic, you’ll want to carry it to be sure that the information on file is correct.
Do not wear any lotion, powder, deodorant, or perfume the day of the test. These items can cause cloudy spots on the test, which can alter their results. The technician will ask you if you’ve used any of these items prior to the test. If you have, you may be asked to return on a different day.
While a mammogram only causes mild discomfort and not pain, if you are particularly sensitive, you may want to consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever an hour before your test to ensure you’re comfortable.
When your name is called, the technician will take you into a room with X-ray equipment. The X-ray machine used for mammograms squeezes down on the breasts slightly to get a good picture of each. After the technician has taken a picture of each breast, you can then get dressed, and your mammogram is complete. Your physician will then call you with the results.
If You Have Dense Breast Tissue
In some cases, your physician may call you to let you know the mammogram couldn’t be read correctly because you have dense breast tissue. While this does put you at an overall higher risk for breast cancer, this doesn’t mean that you have cancer. This means that the physician couldn’t read the mammogram because of your tissue, and you need additional screening. If you have dense breasts and you find this out at your first mammogram, ensure that on future visits it is put into your chart, since typical mammograms alone are not an effective screening tool for you. You will need additional screening tools, such as 3D mammograms, breast MRI, breast ultrasound, or molecular breast imaging. Going forward, you’ll likely have to make dual appointments where you have a mammogram followed by an additional screening diagnostic. Unless you are a patient at TWC. All of your patients have access to state of the art 3-D mammography as a first option not as a secondary, call back, option.
Why Early Detection Is Important
If you still need encouragement to schedule your mammogram, know that early detection of breast cancer could save your life. One out of every eight women in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and if it is found in the early stages, you have a 93 percent chance of survival. Quite often, there are no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, and you won’t even know that you have cancer until cancer has progressed well into the later stages. Self-breast exams can help find lumps in the breast, and this is important information to relay to your doctor; however, mammograms can detect lumps or breast cancer before they can be noticed or felt even on a self-exam. If you are age 40 or over, you should schedule a mammogram every year to ensure that your breasts are healthy and that you are cancer-free. Keep in mind that the survival rate rapidly decreases as breast cancer goes into the later stages. Stage IV breast cancer carries a survival rate of only 22 percent. If you need more information about mammograms or would like to set an appointment for your yearly checkup, schedule an appointment with The Woman’s Clinic today. We are one of the only practices in the Mississippi area to offer 3D mammograms right here in our office, which is much less invasive than the standard 2D procedures. Additionally, 3D mammograms are a good option for those with dense breast tissue.