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Seven mammogram myths

Posted at 3:12 PM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 19:00:32-04


The following article is sponsored by University of Utah HealthCare. Written by Libby Mitchell.

Women in Utah are not getting mammograms.  We rank 49th in the nation when it comes to these screenings. 53% of women ages 40-49 do not get a mammogram each year.

Up until recently, I was one of them.

I had put off getting a mammogram for more than a year following my 40th birthday. I told myself that with no family history of breast cancer it wasn’t imperative, and that I did regular self-exams so I would likely catch any problematic lumps.

Really though, I figured it would be a hassle, and I had bought into some of the myths that get a lot of play.

Because of this I decided to break down those myths when I finally got my first mammogram.

MYTH: You don’t need to get a mammogram if you have no family history of breast cancer.

1 in 8 women will face breast cancer in their lives. Anna McGow, M.D., a radiologist with University of Utah Health Care told me that of those just 25% have any family history of the illness. “Of those, less than 10% have a known gene mutation that increases the risk,” she said.

MYTH:  You don’t need a yearly mammogram.

The list of medical societies that recommend a yearly mammogram for women over 40 is long and includes the American College of Radiology, American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Medical Association, National Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Yes, there have been other opinions that have made headlines in recent years, but they haven’t changed the opinions of the doctors who actively screen for and treat breast cancer patients.

“A yearly mammogram ensures that if cancer develops it is caught early,” said McGow. “The scan can catch tumors before they can be discovered in a self-exam.”

MYTH: Scheduling a mammogram is hard. It takes forever to get an appointment.

It was as easy as calling 801-581-5496 and telling them when I wanted to come in, and where I wanted to have it done.

Yes, you read that right: They asked me when and where I wanted to have my mammogram.

There are now five facilities offering mammograms in the University of Utah Health Care system, from Park City to Orem.  Most of them, like the South Jordan Health Center where I made my appointment, have radiology staff performing the scans five days a week – and some on Saturdays.

There was no way I could say that getting a mammogram wasn’t going to fit into my schedule.

MYTH: Mammograms hurt.

I had heard having a mammogram compared to having your breast slammed in a door, run over by a car, or flattened by a steamroller. The morning of my mammogram a Facebook post I put up about my impending appointment was flooded with comments about how I should take ibuprofen or “something stronger” to deal with the pain. I got so freaked out I asked my mother to go with me to my appointment.

Yes, I called my mommy.

It actually turned out to be a good move. Not because the mammogram hurt, but because she and Charlotte, the woman who would be performing my mammogram, hit it off immediately, and put my mind at ease. Both agreed that mammograms are not painful, and even if they were, “it’s only for a moment,” said Charlotte.

Honestly, the only discomfort I experienced was that the machine was a little cold.

MYTH: You’ll have to have more than one scan.

This was a MAJOR concern for me. I had heard several stories of women who had been subjected to days of worry after being called back for another scan due to “unclear reads.” With new 3-D scans though, this is less of a problem.

“This type of scan makes it 20-40% easier to detect breast cancer,” explained Anna McGow, M.D., the radiologist who would be reading my scans. “They also decrease the likelihood a woman will have to be called back for a second scan.”

The 3-D mammogram machine actually sweeps over the breast during the scan, giving more views of the tissue. The patient still has to have two views taken of each breast, but the images are more complete.

So, no worry-filled waiting for a second scan for me.

MYTH: The new scans expose women to more radiation.

I asked Dr. McGow flat out if this is the case. “When 3-D mammography is performed with 2-D mammography for the screening exam, the radiation dose is the same as for a standard 2-D mammography screening exam,” she responded. “2-D images can be obtained from the 3-D images by FDA-approved computer processing. The time needed to complete the exam is also the same.”

MYTH: It will take all day.

I was in and out in under an hour with a clean bill of breasts.

Looking back now I feel kind of silly that I put off getting a mammogram. It was easy, painless, covered completely by my insurance (and in certain cases is free), and gives me peace of mind that I am breast cancer free.

You can have that same peace of mind. It all starts with a call to (801) 213-4200 or visit