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My Doctor Says I Need a Mammogram — Should I Be Worried?

My Doctor Says I Need a Mammogram — Should I Be Worried?
After your breast exam, your gynecologist advises you to book a mammogram. Does that mean they detected cancer? Even though you haven’t noticed any symptoms or changes in your breasts, should you be worried?

Every year in the United States, about 240,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Approximately 40,000 die from the disease. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women.

Nonetheless, strides in early detection and treatment have vastly reduced the death rate from this dreaded disease. Survival has increased 1-2% every year for the last 30 years. Key to the success in preventing late-stage disease and in curing many cases of breast cancer is early detection through a screening mammogram.

When your own doctor suggests you have a mammogram, however, your first reaction may be anxiety and even shock. Nobody in your family has had breast cancer and you don’t notice any changes in your breasts. Do you have cancer anyway?

At Mass Medical Imaging in Lake Forest, Illinois, our expert doctors Joseph Calandra, MD and Karen Mass, MD recommend regular screening mammograms for all patients over the age of 40. If you have a significant risk for breast cancer, they may recommend starting at age 35.

So, should you be worried before getting a mammogram? You shouldn’t, and here’s why.

Mammograms are standard procedure

Unless they’ve told you otherwise, your doctor recommends a mammogram as part of a standard of care for women, as established by the American College of Gynecology (ACOG). Even if you have no cancer in your family, don’t have lumps or other symptoms, and are at low risk for breast cancer, you still benefit from mammography.

A mammogram allows your doctor to see inside your breast tissue and to determine if there are any changes or growths that might suggest cancer. In most cases, your mammogram is negative, which means there are no suspicious findings and your breasts are cancer-free.

Mammograms catch disease early

One of the reasons mammograms have made such a big difference in survival rates of breast cancer is that they can catch cancer in an early, more treatable stage. So, if your mammogram is positive and you’ve had breast screenings on a regular schedule, you benefit from this early detection.

Other detection methods, such as palpating your own breasts monthly (i.e., breast self-exam), aren’t accurate. Self-exams won’t be able to detect cancerous changes when they’re still small and easily treated. 

It’s also a mistake to think that because nobody in your family ever had breast cancer, you’re not at risk and so you don’t need a mammogram. Up to 85% of cases of breast cancer occur in women with no family history of the disease.

You may need a second mammogram

It’s not uncommon for your doctor to order a second, diagnostic mammogram. Again, that doesn’t mean that you have cancer. It may mean, however, that you have dense breasts.

Dense breasts are those with a lot of breast tissue, but not a lot of fat. 

When breasts are too dense, it’s difficult to distinguish breast tissue from cancer, since they look similar on the X-ray. A diagnostic mammogram lets your doctor take a closer look at areas that were difficult to interpret on the first mammogram. 

We may also advise other tests for a dense breast evaluation, such as breast tomosynthesis or breast ultrasound. If everything is OK on the diagnostic mammogram, you don’t need any follow-up until your next yearly mammogram.

Don’t delay getting the important, potentially life-saving information you and your doctor need from a mammogram. Schedule your mammogram today by calling our friendly team or using our online appointment form.