You may have heard that mammograms aren't always what they're cracked up to be. The truth is, even though mammography has its limitations, it is still the best screening tool for breast cancer.
Before you decide to forego this potentially lifesaving exam, here are the facts behind some of the most common mammogram myths.
Myth: Mammograms cause cancer through radiation exposure.
Fact: A mammogram is an X-ray image of breast tissue. This means it exposes you to radiation, but the level of radiation is very low. The American Cancer Society says that mammography emits about the same amount of radiation you'd be exposed to in the natural environment over seven weeks. To ensure your safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates mammography facilities. A mammography facility is considered safe if it is Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA)-certified. You can protect yourself further by avoiding any unnecessary radiology exams.
Myth: Mammograms cause breast cancer to metastasize.
Fact: Cancer metastasizes (spreads from one part of the body to another) when cancer cells break away from a tumor and travel through the body to another organ or tissue. During a mammogram, your breasts are pressed between the mammography machine's upper and lower plates, but there is no scientific evidence this causes breast cancer cells to break away and spread.
Myth: Mammograms are inaccurate.
Fact: All medical tests have a chance of producing false positive or false negative results. The FDA says mammography is about 80 percent effective in spotting breast cancer, making it the best option available for early breast cancer detection. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, doctors do follow-up tests when mammograms show something abnormal. False negative results happen about 20 percent of the time. Sometimes false negative results are due to dense breast tissue, which can hide cancer on a regular mammogram. If you have dense breast tissue, your doctor may recommend another imaging test like breast ultrasound or 3-D mammography.
Myth: Mammograms require a doctor's order.
Fact: You don't need a referral to schedule a screening mammogram. The current screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society say all women at average risk should get a mammogram every year beginning at age 45 and every other year beginning at age 55. Though the guidelines say you can begin getting an annual mammogram at age 40 and continue getting an annual mammogram after age 55, it's best to talk to your doctor about your individual risk for breast cancer and the benefits and risks of early or more frequent mammogram exams. If you have new breast concerns, a diagnostic mammogram might be the best exam and does require an order from your physician.
Ready to schedule your mammogram? The Christ Hospital Health Network offers seven convenient MQSA-certified locations. To schedule an appointment, call 513-585-2668 or use our online scheduling tool.