In this article I will attempt to dispel any myths you may have about breast cancer screening.
Myth #1: I only go for a mammogram every 2 years because the letter from the Cancer agency only comes every 2 years.
Mammograms are most successful when done yearly. The BC screening program actually wants every woman above the age of 40 to have yearly mammograms, up until approximately age 70 when they may become less frequent. The reminder letter only comes every 2 years for cost concerns. A cancer may not be detectable on screening mammogram during the first year of grown, but will likely become detectable within 1-2 years. If you wait 2 years after a mammogram result that was normal, but in retrospect may have had a cancer that was undetected, it may be too late to treat that cancer conservatively.
Radiologists rely on yearly mammograms in order to compare your breast tissue from year to year. Try to have your mammogram done at the same location every year for this reason, and if this is not possible, ensure that your old mammogram films are sent to your new screening centre. Most screening centres in B.C. have a waitlist of approximately 2-3 months, so be sure to call at least 3 months before your mammogram is due. The number is 604-660-3639.
Myth #2: I get a breast exam by my doctor every year, and I do breast self-exams, isn’t that good enough?
No. Physician directed breast exam will detect a cancer only 21% of the time when cancer is present. Yearly mammogram will pick up 78% of cancers on a yearly basis. Mammogram is still the best screening tool, and is the only screening tool that has been shown to decrease mortality from Breast Cancer. By the time you or your doctor detect cancer on exam, it is likely a breast cancer that will be difficult to treat effectively.
Myth #3: I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I must not be at risk.
The majority of breast cancers are non-familial. 80% of new diagnoses have no family history of breast cancer. If you think you may have a family history of breast cancer, and if you feel you may be at high risk of breast cancer, to determine your risk, please go to http://www.cancer.gov/bcrisktool/. If your risk is greater than 25%, ask your MD about having an MRI in addition to your yearly screening mammogram.
Myth #4: I don’t want to expose myself to unnecessary radiation.
A mammogram only delivers 200mRads of radiation per test. This is just ½ of the amount of radiation you are exposed to with a dental x-ray, and equal to 3 months of regular background radiation from living in Vancouver for 3 months.
Myth #5: I don’t want a mammogram because I’ve heard they are painful.
Most women are actually pleasantly surprised by how little mammograms hurt. Avoid caffeine leading up to your mammogram, have it done during the week after your period, and take Advil or Tylenol beforehand. Hopefully the new digital mammograms will be brought on board as they do cause less discomfort.
Myth #6: If I get recalled for further testing, I have cancer.
69/1000 women going for yearly screening mammograms in B.C. will be recalled for further imaging and possibly biopsy. Out of these 69 women, only 4 will have cancer. Most of the cancers will be very small, and most women will survive. The 5 year survival rate for cancers detected on yearly screening mammograms is 97%.
Bottom line, go for your mammogram every year, as it could save your life!