When life gets busy, our self-care is often what’s sacrificed, pushing things like annual wellness exams and screenings to the bottom of our lists. But knowing that breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S. should strengthen your resolve to stay on top of your annual mammogram. After all, it could save your life.
Before you have symptoms, a screening mammogram offers the best chance of early detection. Catching it 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
Screening and Diagnostic Mammograms
Mammography uses X-rays to make a picture of your breast. Screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms use the same equipment and procedures. The difference is in the number of images made.
Screening mammograms are for women who have no signs of breast cancer such as a lump, pain or nipple discharge. It takes fewer images in less time, and you’ll receive less radiation.
Diagnostic mammograms take more images from different angles to help doctors make the most accurate diagnosis. Because it makes more images, you get more radiation. However, all modern digital mammography equipment uses low doses of radiation, and the latest 3D mammography systems need even less.
Screening If You’re High-Risk
If your risk for breast cancer is higher than average, you may have additional screenings that include an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasound. Although these can be combined with a mammogram, they are not a replacement.
- MRI: Instead of X-rays, an MRI scan uses a magnetic field to make images. Although MRI can find breast cancers mammography misses, it doesn’t find all breast cancers. MRI is effective for women whose health history includes:
- BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
- Immediate family member — mother, sister, child — with BRCA1/2
- Radiation treatment to the chest between ages 10-30
- Ultrasound: This exam uses sound waves to make an image. Women who are pregnant or at very high risk for breast cancer, and who can’t have an MRI or be exposed to X-rays, can benefit from 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 Risk for Breast Cancer
It’s important to know your risk for breast cancer. Some risk factors you can control, such as obesity and alcohol use. Others you can’t, including:
- 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
Schedule a Screening Mammogram
If you’re between ages 20-40, you should have a clinical breast exam by your doctor every three years. If you’re 40 or older, an annual screening mammogram could be the choice recommended by your doctor. If you’re not sure when to begin annual screening mammograms, talk to your trusted doctor to develop a customized screening plan for you.
Breast cancer screening at AdventHealth is focused on one thing: protecting your whole health. Make an appointment for your screening mammogram today.