October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Survival rates for early-stage breast cancer (which has not yet reached the lymph nodes) are around 98 percent and drop to around 80 percent if the cancer has spread. If the disease is found in even later stages, then the survival rates begin to plummet. Despite these statistics, many women are still hesitant to receive mammograms at all, much less annually.
Despite some possible, slight discomfort, the lifesaving potential of mammograms is worth it. Let’s review the actual procedure:
- The patient disrobes and puts on a gown.
- Standing in front of an x-ray machine, the patient puts their breast between two plates. This part can be a little painful, but necessary. Some facilities offer a comfort pad which could reduce the pain.
- After 10 to 15 minutes, the imaging is complete and the technician will scan the other breast.
One issue that women worry about is false positives. Some mammograms do come back with abnormal readings. However, only about 10 percent of those end up as actual incidences of breast cancer. Admittedly, receiving such a false positive can be traumatic. But further tests can be conducted to confirm or discount the diagnosis. Is a day or two of potential worry worth the benefit of early detection and associated treatment, which could save your life? It is exceedingly rare for a false positive to result in unwarranted treatment.
Myths and misconceptions about mammograms:
- Should women skip mammograms if they don’t have a family history of breast cancer?
Skipping screenings procedures is inadvisable because many women develop the disease without family histories of breast cancer. So, screenings should be done on a regular basis regardless of family history.
- Do Mammograms cause cancer because of radiation?
X-rays for mammography use radiation, but they produce about the same low-dose radiation as dental x-rays. Standards set by the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) dictate the radiation levels are set as low as possible for levels to still produce clear, useable images.
- If I feel fine, can I skip the procedure?
Some women might self-diagnose and believe that early-stage breast cancer will present identifiable symptoms. In most cases, examination is the only way to find a suspicious mass before symptoms are present.
- If I’m older, can I skip my mammogram?
Older women might feel they don’t need diagnostic scans. However, they are most at risk for breast cancer. With early detection, senior women have a great opportunity to pursue treatment and fully recover.
As with other areas of your personal health, it’s important you take control of your own body. If your physician fails to recommend a mammogram, but you feel you are in a higher risk group, be sure to speak up. You can also take preventive steps at home by regularly performing self-examinations to find lumps or suspicious changes. By being proactive, you can potentially catch breast cancer in its earliest stages and begin treatment so you can lead a long and healthy life.
Talk to a physician at Mountains Community Hospital to learn more about mammograms. Visit www.mchcares for information.