Miss Information: Mammogram Myths



There are no sure things in medicine, but mammography comes close. Yet misinformation remains about these potentially lifesaving exams. At Gwinnett Medical Center, we know that regular mammograms have been proven to find breast cancer at its earliest stages, when treatments are most effective. But many women fail to take advantage of these powerful, potentially lifesaving tests because of unfounded fears. If you’re one of them, let’s break down the barriers.

Myth: Insurance won’t cover it.

Preventative services such as screening mammograms are often 100 percent covered by insurance, without cost-sharing (deductibles, co-insurance or copayments). Check with your insurance to get the details for your plan. Medicare pays for a screening mammogram every 12 months, for women age 40 and older. If needed, Medicare will pay for a diagnostic mammogram at any time.

Myth: Mammograms are painful.

The test can be a bit uncomfortable, but most women don’t consider it painful. During mammography, your breast is placed on a special platform and compressed with a plastic paddle. Compression helps hold the breast still, evens out the breast tissue and allows lower doses of X-rays to be used. Because there is pressure on the breast, the American Cancer Society recommends you schedule the procedure one week after your period, when your breasts are least tender. If you feel pain, speak up. The technologist may be able to lower the compression and relieve some of the pressure on your breast.

And remember that the actual X-ray takes less than one minute.

Myth: It takes too much time.

From start to finish, a basic screening mammogram lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. A more in-depth diagnostic mammogram, which takes images from more angles, runs 30 to 45 minutes. If that still sounds like too much time, think about this: How much time will it take to fight breast cancer once it has spread through your body? A lot more than half an hour.

Myth: Breast cancer only affects older women.

Breast cancer can occur at any age. To age 39, one woman in 231 will get breast cancer (less than a 5 percent risk); from ages 40 to 59, the risk is 4 percent; from ages 60 to 79, the risk is one in 15 women, or nearly 7 percent.

Myth: Using antiperspirants causes breast cancer.

Neither the active ingredient in antiperspirants nor a reduction in underarm perspiration has been shown to affect breast cancer risk.

Myth: I’m at high risk for breast cancer and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Women at high risk can take steps to reduce, although not eliminate, their chances of getting the disease. These include lifestyle changes (stop smoking, exercise regularly), medication and, in cases of very high risk, a preemptive mastectomy. If you think you’re at high risk, Gwinnett Medical Center offers hereditary cancer risk assessment services with a certified cancer risk counselor. For more information, call 678-312-3235.

Myth: Radiation from the test will give me cancer.

Radiation exposure from mammograms today is extremely low, roughly the same amount a woman would get just by living three months in her normal, everyday environment. It is a well-studied issue and has been for years. And experts say studies show no link between radiation received during mammograms and increased breast cancer risk.

Don’t let these myths stand in the way of you staying healthy. Call 678-392-3639 today to schedule your mammogram at one of Gwinnett Medical Center’s convenient locations in Lawrenceville, Duluth and Hamilton Mill.

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