About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and more than 39,000 women died of breast cancer in 2013 alone. With these staggering statistics, it may come as a surprise that only 67 percent of women over 40 reported having a mammogram within the past two years.
According to Dr. Arnold Honick, radiologist at Radiology Consultants of Iowa and medical director at UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Breast and Bone, mammograms remain the leading method for early detection of breast abnormalities.
“Mammograms are able to look for signs of breast diseases even before any symptoms are displayed,” explains Dr. Honick. “This means earlier detection and, ultimately, a better outcome as treatment is most successful during these initial stages.”
So what is your excuse to not get an annual mammogram? Here are some of the top reasons women skip these life-saving screenings and why these justifications just don’t cut it.
1. I can’t afford a mammogram.
While not having insurance is a real concern for some women, there are ways to work around cost-related roadblocks. Low-cost or free mammograms are commonly offered through national or community based programs, especially during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are unable to afford a mammogram call St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health at (319) 369-7216 and ask to speak with a breast care coordinator and they will assist you in finding funding.
2. The radiation from the mammogram can cause cancer.
St. Luke’s, and many other mammogram providers, utilize the latest breast health imaging technologies called digital mammography, which uses a very low, safe dose of radiation. In addition, digital mammography provides radiologists with sharper, clearer images of the breasts.
“While the original amount of radiation women were exposed to during a mammogram was very small, machine vendors recognized this concern and have since decreased the amount even more,” said Dr. Honick. “Just by switching to a digital machine, radiation exposure decreases by greater than 25 percent.”
3. I don’t have the time to get a mammogram.
While setting aside time for a mammogram may seem impossible, an entire screening procedure only takes about 20 minutes. With walk-in mammograms now being offered at St. Luke's Marion Campus in Marion, Iowa, receiving a mammogram at a time that’s convenient for you has never been easier.
Walk-ins are available Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Preference is given to patients with appointments. For more information call (319) 286-4344.
4. Mammograms are painful.
With the transition to digital mammography, the level of discomfort you experience during the screening should be minimal. Newly designed paddles flex with your body, applying pressure only when necessary.
“In addition to new paddle designs, the technologists at St. Luke’s are very sensitive to the comfort of our patients and can add pads or blankets that do not interfere with the procedure, so comfort should not be a concern,” Dr. Honick explained.
For added comfort, it is suggested that you schedule your mammogram 10-14 days after you start your menstrual cycles when the breasts aren’t as tender and avoid caffeine before your exam as it can increase breast sensitivity.
5. I’m afraid they will find something during my screening.
We all know someone who has been diagnosed and battled breast cancer. Because of the prevalence of this disease, many women fear getting a mammogram as it may lead to bad news. While this anxiety is totally normal, there are a few things to consider before you give in to these worries.
To start, not all abnormalities found during a mammogram are breast cancer. In fact, 8 out of 10 breast lumps are not cancerous. In most cases, further testing such as a biopsy is done and the tissue is found to be normal or benign (noncancerous).
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, detecting it in the early stages is crucial. When found before the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.
6. Mammograms are only for older women.
The American Cancer Society and Dr. Honick recommends annual mammography beginning at age 40. However, women with a family history of cancer or other high-risk factors may need to start screenings at an earlier age.
“Women who are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer may be advised to begin mammogram screenings before the age of 40,” Dr. Honick explained. “For example, women with a genetic predisposition or a first-degree family member that has been diagnosed with breast cancer at an age less than 40 years old.”
If you are considered a high-risk patient, St. Luke's Cancer Risk Assessment Services can provide counseling, genetic testing and observation to help determine your risk for breast cancer, as well as colon, ovarian or endometrial cancer. Click here to learn more.
Mammograms from UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s
When it comes to breast health, early detection is the best prevention. Mammograms are available to women in the Cedar Rapid’s area at our two convenient locations - in the PCI Medical Pavilion and at St. Luke's Marion Campus. To schedule your mammogram today, call (319) 369-8129. A physician referral is required for an appointment.
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