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Mammograms: Myth vs. Fact

Mammograms: Myth vs. Fact

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re a woman over age 40 or with known risk factors, this is a good time to get up to speed on mammogram facts and schedule your annual screening.

“Having an annual mammogram is the most important step women can take to screen for breast cancer,” says Anita Minghini, MD, surgeon and medical director of Valley Health Breast Center. “By catching and treating cancer in its earliest stages, women have better health outcomes, with less aggressive treatments. In fact, mammograms save lives!”

Myth: Mammograms don’t work.

Fact: Mammograms are the gold standard for finding breast cancer—sometimes three years before it appears as a lump you can feel. If there’s cancer in the breast, mammography is about 90 percent likely to find it. If needed, two supplemental tests are used in tandem with annual mammography: ultrasound to screen women with dense breast tissue, and for women at high risk, an MRI is used in addition to a mammogram.

Myth: Getting a mammogram exposes you to unsafe radiation.

Fact: Mammograms do use radiation, but very little. The benefits of potentially detecting and treating breast cancer outweigh, by far, your very low chance of harm from radiation. To ensure high-quality care, get your mammogram at a facility accredited by the American College of Radiology and certified by the Food and Drug Administration; all Valley Health facilities meet these standards.

Myth: A positive mammogram means cancer.

Fact: A positive mammogram means further evaluation is needed. Positive mammograms are common because all abnormalities, no matter how small, are “positive” and need follow-up. About one in 10 women who get a mammogram will have a finding that requires additional imaging, normally a 3D mammogram or ultrasound. An abnormality isn’t always cancer. Sometimes it’s a lump of normal breast tissue or a benign cyst. Of the women who do get called back for additional testing, only 8 to 10 percent of them will need a biopsy, and most biopsies turn out to be noncancerous.

Myth: A thermogram is a good substitute for a mammogram.

Fact: There’s no scientific evidence that a thermogram—an imaging test that shows heat patterns on the breast—is good at finding breast cancer. Thermography is not advised by the American Society of Breast Surgeons or the American College of Radiology.

Myth: All mammograms are the same.

Fact: Mammograms have come a long way. Film-based mammograms were upgraded to 2D digital mammography, and now 3D mammograms—called breast tomosynthesis—are even better at detecting breast cancer. All major insurance carriers now cover 3D screening mammograms. So ask for it when making your annual appointment.

“All women age 40 and above should discuss screening mammography with their provider yearly,” adds Christopher Nieman, MD, lead radiologist, WMC Breast Imaging. “Women with risk factors such as family history of breast cancer should discuss mammograms, along with other screening tools, at any age. Early detection saves lives!”

Visit valleyhealthlink.com/mammo to learn more or call 855-724-3384 to schedule your mammogram at one of Valley Health's seven locations.