It’s easy for many women to keep pushing a mammogram to the bottom of their to-do list, but it only takes a few minutes once a year to potentially save their life.
“I have had patients who frequently postpone their mammogram. I think it hints of the usual woman who cares for everyone else except herself due to busy life, running kids here and there and just taking care of everyone else,” said Michele Garant, DO, obstetrician and gynecologist at Texas A&M Health Women’s Care Plus in College Station, Texas.
However, mammograms are one of the most effective ways to catch early stages of breast cancer, when it’s small and treatment may be less invasive.
A mammogram is an x-ray image of the breasts that allows radiologists to look for cancer or other changes in the tissue. A traditional mammogram takes two-dimensional images. Newer 3-D mammograms, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), combine multiple x-rays to create a three-dimensional image. As a screening, a mammogram can detect potential cancer before it causes any signs or symptoms and has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends women get a mammogram every year starting at age 45, but women as young as 40 may choose to start getting annual mammograms if they wish. Those at high risk for the disease may be encouraged to start even earlier. Talk with your health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and to come up with a screening plan that’s best for you.
During your mammogram appointment, you’ll stand in front a machine that takes x-rays at a lower dose than other types of x-rays. The technician will help position your breast on a plate. Another plate will flatten the breast from above and hold it in place while the x-ray is being taken. This usually only takes a few minutes. The process is repeated until two images are taken of each breast. Some patients feel slight discomfort during the procedure, but it typically subsides very quickly. It’s recommended that you don’t have your mammogram the week before you get your period, when your breasts may be tender or swollen.
“After getting their first mammogram, my patients always come back and tell me, ‘That was so much easier than I thought it would be!” Garant said.
Patients of Women’s Care Plus have an advantage: the mammography center is right next door to the office.
“They can work to get people in the same day, if there is time. But even if they have to make an appointment, we make it easy to fill out paperwork while our patients are still in the office,” Garant said. “Often, it’s the lack of convenience or access to a mammogram that prevent women from going. We’re doing what we can to reduce those barriers for our patients and, hopefully, help them live longer.”