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When you feel healthy, it’s tempting to delay annual checkups and screenings. But not having symptoms shouldn’t mean you let your guard down when it comes to your breast health.
We know that underlying medical conditions can often go undetected for too long without regular preventive care. Even with the busiest schedule, your health should always be a priority.
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in American women. An annual mammogram is still the top recommended screening for women, allowing the earliest possible detection of breast cancer — even before you experience symptoms.
The Key to Lifesaving Early Detection
A mammogram is such a powerful tool because of its ability to catch breast cancer early. In fact, it can detect breast cancer up to two years before you or your doctor can feel a tumor.
Catching cancer early means:
- Therapies like breast conservation therapy will be most effective
- Treatment can begin early, possibly before the cancer spreads to other parts of your body
- You’ll have the best possible chance for a cure
Many women with breast cancer experience no symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, many decades of research show women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early, are less likely to need aggressive treatment like surgery or chemotherapy, and are more likely to be completely cured.
Screening vs. Diagnostic Mammograms
Mammography uses X-rays to take images of your breasts. Screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms use the same equipment and procedures; they differ in the number and type of images made.
Screening mammograms are for women who have no signs of breast cancer such as a lump, pain, or change in breast size or shape. These simple appointments are usually finished in 30 minutes or less. Breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast.
Diagnostic mammograms are prescribed when a screening mammogram shows an area of concern. They take more detailed images from different angles to help your care team make the most accurate diagnosis.
If your breast cancer risk is higher than average, your care team may recommend additional screenings that include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound. Although these can be combined with a mammogram, they are not replacements for it.
Instead of X-rays, an MRI scan uses a magnetic field to make images. Although an MRI can find breast cancer that mammography misses, it can’t find all breast cancers. An MRI is effective for women whose health history includes:
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Immediate family member — mother, sister or child — with BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Radiation treatment to the chest between ages 10 and 30
An ultrasound exam uses sound waves to make an image. Women who are pregnant, at very high risk for breast cancer, and who can’t have an MRI or be exposed to X-rays can benefit from an ultrasound. It’s also better at finding breast cancers in women who have dense breast tissue, which is more difficult to diagnose using mammography.
Know Your Breast Cancer Risk
It’s important to know your risk for breast cancer. You can control some risk factors, like your weight and lifestyle. But there are others that are not within your control, such as:
- Density of breast tissue
- Family history of breast cancer
- First menstrual period before age 12
- Genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2
- History of fibroids or other benign breast conditions
- Race and ethnicity
When you understand the breast cancer risk factors you can control, you can manage them better with the guidance of physicians who have your whole health in mind.
Feel Empowered With Preventive Care
If you’re between the ages of 20 and 40, you should have a clinical breast exam by your doctor at least every three years. If you’re 40 or older, an annual screening mammogram may be recommended by your doctor.
If you haven’t had a mammogram in the past year and you’re over age 40 with no abnormal symptoms, you can self-refer for a screening mammogram.
Breast cancer screenings are focused on one thing, and that’s protecting your whole health. Your long-term well-being is important — and taking that first step is up to you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need help along the way by calling the Member Experience Center at Call855-747-7476 to learn how we can support your whole-person health.
Learn more about how to stay well in body, mind and spirit here. You deserve to feel whole.