It’s Time To Debunk Mammography Myths
Myth: I had a normal mammogram last year, so I don’t need another one this year.
Fact: A woman’s breasts are always changing. Breastfeeding, hormone fluctuations, menstrual cycles, menopause… all affect women’s bodies and their breast health. While the decision to get a mammogram is a personal one, women ages 40 and older need to understand that changes in their bodies mean changes in their breast. Annual screening is the best way to ensure that should a concern arise, early detection offers the best and easiest treatment options possible.
Myth: Mammograms are painful.
Fact: Mammograms shouldn’t be painful. If you see a breast specialist, who is highly trained in understanding the unique nature of breast tissue, she will understand how much compression is “enough” to get a good picture, but not too much to cause unnecessary discomfort. In most cases, the two breast compressions necessary for an accurate mammogram will be a little uncomfortable but they should not be painful. Each compression lasts only takes 45 seconds and the entire procedure only takes 5 to 10 minutes.
Myth: Mammograms aren’t accurate.
Fact: Currently, 2D and 3D mammography are the best tools available to detect breast cancer before it can be felt. Mammography is most accurate when performed by a dedicated breast imaging center, by fellowship-trained or dedicated breast radiologists, by radiologists who dedicate their research and clinical practice time to the area of breast imaging and who read a high volume of both screening and diagnostic mammograms, facilities employing “batch reading” to interpret screening mammograms and by a radiologist whose accuracy is audited at least once annually.
Myth: Breast cancer is a death sentence.
Fact: There is no question breast cancer is a serious disease, but as with most diseases, the earlier it is detected and treatment begins, the better the outcome. In fact, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with stage 0 or 1 breast cancer—the earliest stages—is 100 percent1. Stated simply, while saving your life is job one, preserving quality of life is also a high priority.
Myth: Most women in the U.S. get mammograms.
Fact: Of those women who have health insurance, only 51 percent (a little more than half) get their annual mammogram. For those who are underinsured or uninsured, the figure is, sadly, much lower.
Myth: I don’t have any family history of breast cancer so I don’t need a mammogram.
Fact: Radiologists are reporting more breast cancer findings in women with no family history of breast cancer. In 2015, the numbers show that 85 percent of the reported cases of breast cancer were found in women with no history of it in their family.2
Myth: You’ll feel a lump in time without a mammogram.
Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, mammography is the “single, most effective method of early detection.” In fact, mammograms can detect cancer long before any physical symptoms, such as lumps, become readily apparent. With annual mammograms, the average size of a detected lump is the size of a pea. Without the yearly exams, the average size of a lump found through self-detection is the size of a walnut. The invasiveness of treatment and the cost of that treatment is radically different, in addition to being key to preserving quality of life.
Myth: Mammograms are dangerous and cause cancer.
Fact: 2D and 3D mammograms do require very small amounts of radiation. However, the benefits of mammography far outweigh the tiny chance of harm. As always, women should talk to their doctors if they have any concerns about any screening procedure. But avoiding a mammogram for fear of getting breast cancer is like avoiding learning how to swim for fear of drowning.
Myth: 3D mammography and 2D mammography are the same.
Fact: While 2D and 3D mammography take virtually the same amount of time, and require the same amount of pressure, there is a big difference between the two technologies. 3D mammogram screening – also known as tomosynthesis – gives radiologists more and clearer images of breast tissue, increasing the specificity of early detection while decreasing the need for unnecessary callbacks. Using the analogy of a book instead of a breast, 3D allows the radiologist to look at individual pages within the book rather than just trying to read its contents by peeking through the front or back cover.
Myth: Mammograms are too expensive.
Fact: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, nearly all private insurance carriers cover the cost of a 2D screening mammogram with zero copay – regardless of deductible. Medicare, Cigna and some regional insurers also cover the cost of 3D within their mammography plan. And for those who don’t have insurance or aren’t eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, Solis Mammography offers a $99 coupon for mammography screening and partners with local nonprofits who support women who cannot cover the cost of their breast cancer treatment.
Myth: Mammograms won’t work on me because I have implants.
Fact: While it’s true that mammograms can’t give clear images of the tissue under breast implants, if the technologist is aware of implants before the mammogram, extra steps can be taken for maximum effectiveness in screening. Always tell the mammography technologist if you have any kind of implant before starting your exam.
Myth: Mammography results in too many false positives and call-backs.
Fact: Because breast tissue is dense, it’s common for radiologists to have patients return for more images to ensure the most accurate results. Those requests for additional images should not be misconstrued as a false-positive. In fact, less than 10 percent of women called back are found to have cancer. And breast-dedicated centers like Solis Mammography have even lower call-back rates (8 percent on average) as compared to the national average of 11 to 15 percent. And thanks to cutting-edge technology like 3D mammography, unnecessary callbacks have been shown to be reduced by up to by 37 percent.
Myth: There are better alternatives to mammograms.
Fact: Currently, 2D and 3D mammography are the best tools available to detect breast cancer before it can be felt. Mammography is most accurate when performed by a dedicated breast imaging center, by fellowship-trained or dedicated breast radiologists, by radiologists who read a high volume of both screening and diagnostic mammograms, and by facilities who employ “batch reading” to interpret screening mammograms without interruption.
Myth: You need a doctor’s referral or your insurance won’t cover it.
Fact: If you are 40 or older, and not experiencing any symptoms, you do not need a doctor’s referral for an annual screening mammogram, and you may pick the imaging facility of your choice. That freedom means you should put as much care and thought into your decision as you would for any healthcare provider.
Myth: I’m on Medicare and a fixed budget and cannot afford a mammogram.
Fact: Medicare covers 100 percent of the cost of both annual 2D and 3D mammograms for women 40 and older.
Myth: Mammograms are scary.
Fact: While mammography (and the idea of breast cancer) is scary for some, we offer that it’s far scarier to not know about your own breast health. Accurate information empowers women, and the early information that comes with annual mammography means not having to deal with late diagnoses that involves far most invasive treatments. Annual mammograms offer women peace of mind – either by knowing they are all clear for another year, or by finding any concerns at the earliest possible stage, to offer the best treatment options possible.
Myth: Insurance won’t cover mammograms if you’re 40 because the American Cancer Society says they’re not needed until 45.
Fact: Standard 2D screenings are still completely covered by nearly all insurance plans and 3D mammograms are 100 percent covered by Medicare and by select major insurance providers. (Coverage by providers varies by plans and policies.) To ensure this continued protection for all women, Solis Mammography joined in a lobbying effort which resulted in a two-year moratorium on insurance companies denying coverage for women due to the mixed messaging coming from some guidelines. Working on behalf of proactive breast health, Solis Mammography continues to continue to defend women’s access to life-saving technology and the peace of mind it brings.
Myth: I am too young to get breast cancer.
Fact: Sadly, radiologists across the country are seeing more cases of breast cancer at younger ages. In 2015, of all women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, one in five (20 percent) were in their 40s. Coupled with the fact that breast cancer in younger tissue tends to grow at a faster rate, this makes early detection all the more important. In spite of confusion around new guidelines, standard 2D screenings are still completely covered by nearly all insurance plans, and 3D mammograms are 100 percent covered by Medicare and select major providers.
Myth: All mammograms are the same?
Fact: Getting a mammogram is more than just getting an X-ray of your breasts. It’s also a matter of ensuring the clearest images are interpreted by the highest trained, breast-dedicated experts. By choosing facilities that are dedicated breast imaging centers that specialize in mammography, that offer the latest 3D technology, and are staffed by fellowship-trained or are dedicated breast imaging radiologists and whose accuracy is audited at least once annually, women can rest assured they are doing everything possible to obtain the most accurate mammogram reading.
Myth: It does not matter who reads my mammogram as long as I get an annual mammogram.
Fact: All screening providers are not created equal. Women should ask if the radiologists reading their mammograms and technologists performing the compression are breast-imaging specialists. This expertise makes a big difference in accurate diagnoses4, and minimizes unnecessary discomfort from compression and placement.
Myth: Doing self-exams is equally as good as getting a mammogram.
Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, mammography is the “single, most effective method of early detection.” Mammograms detect cancer long before any physical symptoms, such as lumps, become apparent to a woman performing a self-exam or even to a trained physician conducting a manual exam. In women who have annual mammograms, the average anomaly found is the size of pea. In women who do not get annual screenings, the average size of a lump found through self-exam is the size of a walnut. That size difference has a dramatic impact on treatment options and quality of life.
Celebrating 30 years in breast imaging, Solis Mammography is a specialized healthcare provider focused on delivering women an exceptional mammography experience. Headquartered in Addison, Texas, Solis currently operates 39 centers across six major markets – North Texas; Houston, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Columbus, Ohio; Greensboro, North Carolina; and, through its recent acquisition of Washington Radiology Associates (WRA), the D.C. metropolitan area. The company operates both wholly-owned centers and multiple successful joint ventures with hospital partners. Solis Mammography (including WRA), serves more than 600,000 patients each year with highly-specialized imaging services including screening and diagnostic mammography (2D and 3D), computer-aided detection, breast ultrasound, stereotactic biopsy and ultrasound-guided biopsy. For more information, visit www.SolisMammo.com, like us on Facebook, follow us on Pinterest, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Studies cited in fact sheet:
1. American Cancer Society.
2. “Breast Cancer Prevention and Early Detection”, American Cancer Society.
3. Lewis RS, Sunshine JH, Bhargayan M. A Portrait of Breast Imaging Specialists and of the Interpretation of Mammography in the United States. AJR 2006; 187; W456-W468.
4. Sickles, AE, Wolverton, DE, Dee, KE. Performance Parameters for Screening and Diagnostic Mammography: Specialist and General Radiologists. Radiology 2002; 224-3: 861-869.