October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and as the Medical Director of The Breast Center at MDI Hospital, with over 30 years experience reading mammograms, I can tell you with certainty that early detection through regular screening mammography can save your life. But I have heard a million excuses for not getting a regular screening mammogram. Below are ten of the most popular, accompanied by an explanation that will hopefully convince women to take this simple, life-saving step.
10. NO FAMILY MEMBERS HAD BREAST CANCER-NO WAY I CAN GET IT. Wrong!! 75% of breast cancer happens in women with no family history. True, family history does increase risk but don’t be lulled into complacency because there is no cancer in your family.
9. LAST MAMMOGRAM WAS NEGATIVE. THINK I WILL SKIP A COUPLE OF YEARS. Not a good idea! Published medical evidence indicates annual mammography beginning at age 40 is highly effective at detecting breast cancer. Unfortunately, we regularly see interval cancer developing between mammograms. With breast cancer, the earlier is it caught and treated, the greater the chance for cure.
8. I’M GETTING ON IN YEARS AND I AM NOT CONCERNED ABOUT MY BREASTS. ANYHOW YOU HAVE TO DIE OF SOMETHING. Remember, getting older is a significant risk factor for developing breast cancer. Experts now agree there is no upper limit for annual screening mammography. Why die of a disease that is highly curable?
7. IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE. Most insurances cover preventive services. For those who qualify, the Maine Breast and Cervical Health program 1-800-350-5180 covers screening mammograms. Hospitals will work with patients who do not qualify for these programs. Choose to place your health at the highest priority. Your loved ones will thank you!
6. IT’S TOO PAINFUL. Not as much as advanced breast cancer. The Breast Center At MDI Hospital provides the Mammopad to all patients at no added cost. This helps but may not totally eliminate discomfort. Premenopausal patients should schedule their mammogram during the first two weeks of their cycle.
5. TOO WORRIED ABOUT THE RADIATION. It’s good to have an awareness of the ionizing radiation associated with medical imaging testing. You need to understand why your doctor is ordering any radiation-based imaging test. Ask if alternatives such as ultrasound or MRI might be options. However, there is no evidence showing a relationship between low-level diagnostic radiation and cancer. Mammography is one of the lowest radiation level forms of testing. The radiation-sensitivity of all cells including those in the breast decreases as we age. Plus, the new digital mammography unit at our breast center emits one third less than others in our area.
4. I HEARD THAT DIGITAL MAMMOGRAPHY LEADS TO UNNECESSARY RETAKES AND BREAST BIOPSIES. Medical screening testing is done on patients without symptoms or physical findings. An accepted aspect of all screening tests is a background false positive rate. There is a fine line between recommending biopsies that might be negative, and missing cancer by not recommending them. Evidence has shown that the cancer detection rate with digital mammography is higher than the old film-based method in over 50% of patients. Plus the false positive rate (the “unnecessary” biopsy rate) is actually lower with digital. More cancer is being detected. For example at the Breast Center at MDI Hospital, our cancer detection rate went from 1.4 per 1,000 screened patients pre-digital to 6 per1,000 the first year we had digital. There was no significant increase in recall rate. This amounts to a 400% increase in cancer detection! Plus those cancers were almost all in the earliest most curable stage. Multiple surveys indicate women believe the reassurance of a negative retake or a negative biopsy is worth the minor inconvenience and/or discomfort.
3. MY BREASTS ARE TOO DENSE SO MAMMOGRAMS ARE USELESS. When compared to film mammography, digital mammography is more accurate at detecting cancer in women with dense breasts.
2. MY BREASTS ARE SO SMALL, I WOULD KNOW IF THERE WERE SOMETHING WRONG. PLUS I HEARD I HAVE LESS CHANCE OF GETTING CANCER. Very early stage breast cancer is not usually detected by feeling a lump. Cancer is just as likely to develop in small breasts as larger ones assuming equal risk factors.
1. DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT IF I HAVE BREAST CANCER. IF I GET IT I’LL DIE! As the saying goes “denial is a big river in Egypt.” The survival rate for breast cancer diagnosed in a screening program is 98%. To put it another way, the preponderance of medical evidence indicates breast cancer mortality has decreased 30-50% since the widespread adoption of screening mammography. Advances in treatment have helped but when controlled for that, data shows mammography has made this much difference!
To contact the Breast Center at MDI Hospital, call 288-8435.