It is important for every woman to start having an annual mammogram by age 40 along with monthly breast self-examinations and clinical breast exams. There are some cancers that cannot be discovered in a mammogram, but can be found with a clinical breast exam, which makes them both extremely important. However, early breast cancer detection through mammography is the most effective way and the only method proven to reduce deaths due to this disease. The American Cancer Society recommends women in their 20’s and 30’s receive a clinical breast exam every three years. If you are at higher risk for breast cancer based on family history or another reason, talk to your health care provider about having a mammogram before the age 40.
Age is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer. According to the SEER Cancer Statistics Review by the National Cancer Institute, at age 30 the chance of a woman developing breast cancer is 1 in 227. By age 50 chances are 1 in 42 and by age 70 chances are 1 in 26. The chance of a female developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 1 in 8.
It is important to note that the compression of the breasts is to even out the thickness of breast tissue, which allows for a lower dosage of x-ray to be used. This also helps get a clear picture.
If you are pregnant or have breast feed in the last six months, it is best to postpone your mammogram. Radiation exposure can be harmful to a growing fetus. Also if you have breast implants, it is important to notify your doctor.
If you are having any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor about a mammogram:
- Lump/thickening in the breast or the underarm
- Asymmetry of breasts such as change in size or shape
- Unexplained discoloration of the skin on the breast such as redness or bruising
- Dimpling, puckering, retraction of the skin or areola
- Inversion of the nipple
- Scaling, crusting or drainage of the nipple or areola
- Localized breast pain
Women who supplement mammograms with a breast self-exam should recognize that breast changes might occur because of pregnancy, aging, or menopause.
If you receive a negative mammogram from a doctor and still feel a lump, try getting a second opinion to make sure nothing was missed.
With many private insurance companies, women are covered for screening mammograms without copayments or deductibles. However, women should contact their mammography facility or health insurance company to confirmation the cost and coverage. Medicare pays for annual mammogram screenings for all females 40 years of age or older with no deductible.
The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (WHCRA) requires insurance companies who offer mastectomy coverage to also provide coverage for related services. This includes reconstruction and surgery in order to achieve a symmetrical appearance between the breasts, prostheses, and complications that result from a mastectomy, including lymphedema.
Other technologies are currently in development. These include 3-D mammography, gamma imaging, hand-held and automated ultrasounds, breast magnetic resonance imaging, and MRI.
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