Top 5 myths women believe about mammograms (and why they’re not true)

Women's Health

by Alison Palumbo, MD

Nov 3, 2022

Every woman wants to age with health and grace. Keeping up with an annual mammogram routine is one of the best ways to do just that. With peace of mind about your well-being, you can age well and look forward to the days ahead with confidence.

There are quite a few myths and misconceptions about mammograms. Let’s clear up a few of the most common ones you may have heard.

Myth #1: I don’t need a mammogram because breast cancer doesn’t run in my family.

This is a common misunderstanding. You might be surprised to learn that 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history. That means mammograms are a smart move for every woman over 40, regardless of your health status or family history.

Myth #2: I don’t need a mammogram every year.

Multiple large clinical studies have shown us that yearly screening mammograms starting at age 40 save the most lives. Why every year? As a breast imager, we look for subtle changes in your mammogram from year to year to detect breast cancer as early as possible. It’s easier to spot those subtle changes when we have previous images to look back on.

Myth #3: A mammogram is too much radiation exposure.

There’s a lot of unnecessary fear surrounding this myth. In reality, a mammogram exposes you to less than half the dose of radiation you absorb from natural sources in the environment in a given year, or about the same amount of radiation you are exposed to on a transatlantic flight.

It’s very small, and the potential benefit—detecting cancer early—certainly outweighs that small risk.

What about a 3D mammogram, you ask? 3D mammograms have been demonstrated to detect breast cancers earlier than 2D mammograms, which leads to better outcomes and more lives saved. And with today’s technology, the radiation dose is only minimally more than a 2D mammogram.

Myth #4: Mammograms are painful.

If you’ve never had a mammogram before, I can understand the fear about what it might feel like. But it is generally painless with mild discomfort at most, like a pressure or squeezing sensation.

A mammogram uses gentle, even compression to spread out the breast tissue and hold the breast in place for imaging. The breast is held in compression for a very short period of time.

Myth #5: I don’t have time for a mammogram.

Getting a mammogram isn’t nearly as time-consuming as you may think. Typically, you can be in and out in less than 30 minutes. That’s a half-hour well spent. You can also schedule online when and where it’s convenient for you without the need for a doctor’s order.

Schedule your mammogram today and start an annual routine that protects your well-being for years to come.

About the Author

Alison Palumbo, MD, is a diagnostic radiologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center. Dr. Palumbo is the division chief of breast imaging, as well as the medical director of the High-Risk Breast Cancer Screening Program.

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