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Mammogram mythbusters: 4 things that just aren’t true

September 21, 2017

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s the time of year when we spread the word about mammograms and raise awareness about the importance of early detection of the disease.

Despite the abundance of information available on the important role that mammograms play in the early detection of breast cancer, myths still exist - especially when it comes to dense breasts. Linda Reilman, MD, diagnostic radiologist at Fort Hamilton Hospital helps to clear up some of the most common misconceptions about mammograms:

Myth #1: I don’t have any symptoms of breast cancer or a family history, so I don’t need to worry about having an annual mammogram.

Fact: The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening mammograms for all women over 40, regardless of symptoms or family history. “Early detection is critical,” said Dr. Reilman. “If you wait to have a mammogram until you have symptoms of breast cancer, such as a lump, at that point the cancer may be more advanced and may no longer be treatable.”

According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage breast cancers have a five-year survival rate of 99 percent. Later-stage cancers have survival rates of 24 percent.

“Seventy-five to ninety percent of women who have breast cancer have no family history of it. Most breast cancers are spontaneous genetic changes that occur in the individual and are not necessarily due to family history or a breast cancer gene,” said Dr. Reilman.

Myth #2: A mammogram will expose me to an unsafe level of radiation. 

Fact: While a mammogram does use radiation, it is a very small amount and is within the medical guidelines. Because mammography is a screening tool, it is highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Mammography Quality and Standards Act and other governing organizations, such as the American College of Radiology.

“A mammogram is safe as long as the facility you go to is certified by the regulating agencies,” explained Dr. Reilman. “The new 3D mammogram gives about the same amount of radiation as a traditional mammogram. It is of no greater risk over time to patients.”

Women with dense breast tissue, in particular, may benefit from 3D mammography because it helps the radiologist ‘see’ through the tissue with a clearer picture,” said Dr. Reilman.  “This means breast cancer can be caught earlier. 3D mammography also can keep more women from coming back for extra pictures to clear up questionable areas.”

Myth #3: My doctor didn’t tell me I needed a mammogram, so I cannot schedule an exam.

Fact: You do not need your doctor to write you a prescription or complete an order form for you to have a screening mammogram. Women can self-refer to make an appointment for their annual mammogram for earlier detection of breast cancer.

“If you are a woman and 40 or older, you should have a mammogram every year, even if your doctor forgets to mention it,” said Dr. Reilman.

Myth #4: I have breast implants, so mammograms are not a viable option because it could cause my implants to rupture.

Fact: Women with implants should have mammograms -- just be sure to tell the mammography facility when you make your appointment. Implants can hide some breast tissue, making it harder for the radiologist to see a problem when looking at your mammogram. In order to see as much breast tissue as possible, the x-ray technician will gently lift the breast tissue slightly away from the implant and take extra pictures of the breasts.

A woman who has an implant due to breast cancer surgery in which the entire breast was removed (mastectomy) should ask her doctor whether she needs a mammogram of the reconstructed breast.

Take the time to take care of yourself

After cancers of the skin, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women today. In fact, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Medicare, Medicaid and almost all insurance companies cover the cost of having a mammogram.

A mammogram only takes 15 minutes and could save your life. Make your appointment today.

Pink Around the Square event

Fort Hamilton Hospital is honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a free and educational event all about breast health called Pink Around the Square on Friday, Oct. 6. From 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in downtown Hamilton, people can enjoy free refreshments from Chick-Fil-A and Pepsi, a pink vanilla ice cream cones from Flub’s, and learn about breast health from our expert physicians. Attendees will be able to sign up for mammograms, receive giveaways and can enter to win door prizes. Click here to learn more about the event.