I admit I was a little nervous. It is like a rite of passage yet a green mile walk at the same time. Incidentally, I had recently received news that someone close to me who is also younger than me had been diagnosed. I regretted not having my baseline at 35 when my gynecologist first told me too. Now, here I was a few months before turning 40 and going to have my first mammogram. I was not expecting anything to be wrong but I would be lying if I said I had zero concern. Though it is not common, I have seen patients in their 20s with breast cancer. As a nurse practitioner, I know the benefits as well as the risks of screening. I also educate patients often about the importance of getting a mammogram.
So what is a mammogram? It is an x-ray picture of the breast used to identify early signs of cancer. The breasts are compressed between plastic plates to allow for imaging. The range of discomfort varies but it is not particularly painful to many women. Mammograms could detect cancer 3 years before a person can actually feel the lump. Because screening can detect what you cannot, it is important to discuss the timing of your mammogram with your health care provider.
When should you have a mammogram? The recommendations were modified a few years back but 40 is still a good rule of thumb. At least by 40, you should be discussing with your healthcare provider. Here are the specific guidelines as detailed by the American Cancer Society.
Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so.
Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years or can continue yearly screening.
Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
Recommendations will vary for persons who have a close family history of breast cancer or a personal history of breast cancer. Also, if a genetic cause has been identified, the recommendations will likely be different. Expect more frequent screening depending on the personal situation.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women with around 275,000 cases expected to be identified this year. One of the best things that you can do to be proactive about your health is to have a mammogram according to the recommendations above. Discuss scheduling with your primary care provider, women’s health provider, or gynecologist. Mammograms are covered by most insurance plans. There are also programs for those who do not have insurance who may need financial assistance for screening. Remember, prevention is better than treatment and early intervention is better than late intervention. Mammogram? Yes, ma’am!
Are you approaching the age of needing a mammogram? Do you need to make your appointment for your yearly screening? Have you been putting off having your screening?