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? According to Intermountain Healthcare guidelines, women at average risk for breast cancer should begin annual screening mammography at the age of 40, and should continue screening for as long as they're healthy. Intermountain and The American Cancer Society agree that to save lives, screening should begin at age 40, because we know that 20 percent of breast cancers occur in women younger than 50. This means it's important that women not wait until they are 50 to start screening.
  2. Is there any reason women should receive a screening mammogram before age 40? Sometimes. Use the following guidelines to determine if you should get a screening mammogram before you're 40:
    • Women with a first-degree relative (a mother or a sister) with premenopausal breast cancer should begin screening 10 years before the age of diagnosis of their relative. For example, if your mother was diagnosed at age 45, you should begin screening at age 35.
    • Women at very high risk for breast cancer, those with the breast cancer gene, or first-degree relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer should consult with a genetics counselor, and they may be eligible for MRI screening.
    • Women with a lump or any suspicious symptoms should undergo diagnostic evaluation, which may include a mammogram, ultrasound or both. Women under 30 are usually evaluated with ultrasound initially.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. If you require a diagnostic mammogram or an ultrasound, you may be required to have a physicians order. Check with your health insurance provider to learn more about what is covered by your plan.