Nearly one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. But many women still wonder, “Do I really need a mammogram?”
The answer is yes. A mammogram, an imaging test used to screen women for breast cancer, is your best chance of detecting breast cancer early when treatment is most effective.
That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends women begin breast cancer screening with mammograms around age 40 and commit to getting yearly mammograms by age 45. While women aged 55 and older may switch to screening every two years or continue annual screening, routine screening every year is the best way to prevent breast cancer.
Because our cancers are still found at a later stage than our white counterparts, and we are more likely to die from breast cancer, Black women should follow the advice of the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging and get a mammogram every year starting at age 40. If you have a close relative (mother, sister) who has had breast cancer, talk to your doctor about getting tested earlier.
A mammogram may not bring you joy, but it could mean the difference between life and death. So check out these six reasons to get one:
1. Cancer or an abnormality can’t always be felt. Mammograms can find breast cancer long before you or your doctor are able to feel a lump in your breast. Don’t get us wrong: Breast self-exams are important (you should know your breasts intimately), but you may not feel any changes until a sizable lump has formed. By the time that happens, breast cancer is already growing, spreading and harder to treat. A mammogram can detect changes to your breast tissue as small as grains of sand, making it the best tool for detecting cancer as early as possible.
2. When caught early, breast cancer is 99 percent curable. No, mammograms can’t prevent breast cancer, but they can help detect it early when there are more treatment options—and before it spreads to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected while it’s contained to the breast, the survival rate is nearly 100 percent.
3. A mammogram can save your life—and your breasts. When breast cancer is detected early, you may not need a mastectomy or surgical removal of the affected breast. Instead, a lumpectomy may be used to remove only the cancerous tumor while preserving the healthy tissue around it.
4. Your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age—even if no one else in your family has it. The older you are, the more your risk of developing breast cancer. That’s why mammograms aren’t a one-and-done option. It’s important to get screened for breast cancer every year starting at the age of 40. While being a woman and advancing age are the most significant risk factors, there are others, including:
- Alcohol use
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
Even if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, you aren’t necessarily in the clear. The majority of women with breast cancer, about 85 percent, have no family history of the disease. So even if no one in your family has breast cancer, you are still at risk of developing it yourself.
5. It takes only 20 minutes. We’re not going to lie: A mammogram isn’t the most comfortable procedure (a skilled technician should be able to minimize your discomfort, and you can minimize the unpleasantness by following these tips), but getting one takes only 20 minutes.
6. As of now, it’s free for eligible patients. Under the Affordable Care Act, women’s preventive health care, including mammograms, generally must be covered with no cost sharing. You also may be eligible for a free mammogram if you are:
- Age 40 or older
- Living on a limited income
- Uninsured or underinsured.