5 Misconceptions About Mammograms

myths about mammograms
Whether it’s time for your first mammogram or your tenth, many misconceptions exist about mammograms. You might be afraid to have one, as nearly everyone knows someone with breast cancer. Or you might think you’re in good health and don’t need one. But here’s the facts: Regular mammograms can find or detect early breast cancer when it’s easiest to treat — and treatment in the early stages significantly reduces your risk of dying from the disease. 

Mammogram questions and answers:

1. Should all women start having mammograms at the same age? It depends. The guidelines have changed in recent years, but most doctors recommend starting at age 40. What’s important is to make an informed decision. The age to start is based on your family history and genetics, along with talking with your doctor. A few things to consider:

  • If you’re age 40 to 44, you can choose to start early screenings. The American College of Radiology and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend starting mammograms at age 40.
  • Some doctors and the American Cancer Society recommend starting at age 45.
  • If you have a higher risk of breast cancer due to family history, start mammograms earlier. The recommendation is to start at the age your family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. For example, if you mother was diagnosed at age 38, you should start 10 years earlier at age 28. 

2. Do mammograms prevent breast cancer? No. A mammogram cannot prevent you from getting breast cancer, but it can detect early stage breast cancer — which is the cancer you cannot see or feel. 

3. Does being called back for a second mammogram mean you have cancer? No. It simply means the radiologist wants to do more tests, such as an ultrasound, to take a closer look at any areas of concern. As imaging technology improves it’s very common to be called back for additional testing due to an abnormal mammogram — especially if it’s your first time getting a mammogram. If you’ve been having mammograms for years, you may get called back for more testing, too. The latest imaging technology allows the radiologist to see more detail compared to just a few years ago, but it’s not a reason to worry. According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 1 in 10 women called back are found to have cancer

4. Do all mammogram abnormalities lead to cancer? No. Your breast tissue is a lot like a fingerprint, and the images will vary. If you’ve never had a mammogram, the radiologist will need a starting point for what’s normal for you (which is another reason why it’s common to be called back after your first mammogram). Lumps or tumors in the breast are often benign as well. In the U.S., 8 out of 10 biopsy results are not cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to find out.

5. Do I need a referral from my doctor to get a screening mammogram? No. Even if your doctor doesn’t mention it to you, you can make an appointment. Most SelectHealth plans cover breast cancer screening under preventive care at 100 percent.

LEARN MORE: Schedule a mammogram and see more tips.