Do I Really Need a Mammogram Every Year?

I hear this a lot: "Do I really need a mammogram every year?"

If you are age 40 or older, and still have your breasts, the answer is yes.

Mammography remains the gold standard for early detection of breast cancer. The mission of the radiologist is to see if there is a change from last year to this year on the images. He or she also compares them for symmetry between the two breasts. Change in the images can signal something going on that may be of concern. If you are asked to have additional films taken, it doesn't automatically mean they are concerned that you have breast cancer. Most of the time, the final outcome will be good news. Thoroughness and a keen eye are key, however, and going every year is important because it provides the radiologist a consistent and current image of what's normal for you.

I speak from experience. A mammogram saved my life.

Women complain about mammography because they say it hurts too much. Granted, there are times I think that the device itself may have been developed by a man whose mother refused to breastfeed him. But it is, for now, our best weapon for early detection and, in general, the earlier we find breast cancer the better the outcome is for the patient. We can save her life and usually save her breast.

For those with sensitive breasts, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever about an hour before you have the imaging done. Schedule your mammogram for a few days after your period has ended when your breasts are less tender and swollen from hormonal changes. Don't ask the technician to "be nice and don't compress" you too tightly, either. If she doesn't compress the breast as much as possible, she is doing you an injustice. An X-ray of more compressed tissue delivers clearer images, better for finding things inside.

When you go home from having the imaging done, look at your family and say, "I got a mammogram for you today because I want to be around to take care of you."

You also are setting an example for other family members -- siblings, children, and even your own mother. It's the right thing to do.

So go.

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