Here’s why routine screenings like mammograms shouldn’t be postponed any longer.
If you’ve been putting off routine health appointments and screenings for most of this year, you definitely aren’t the only one. Many health care facilities had to close and cancel appointments in the early phase of the pandemic. Even as medical offices reopened, people have been hesitant to reschedule appointments, concerned about contracting the virus or simply not willing to venture out for something viewed as routine.
Even without a global pandemic going on, it’s easy to put off health appointments that don’t seem urgent. We get busy, and when that happens, things like mammograms and other routine screenings get pushed off the calendar. Or we simply can’t be bothered with doing something that doesn’t seem to be needed at that exact time.
But delaying or skipping routine screenings like mammograms is a mistake. Here are a couple of reasons you should stick to a regular schedule for these screenings:
- Mammograms can detect cancer early. Finding cancer when it’s still small, before it has spread, allows for gentler treatment options and a better chance of recovery. The images generated through mammography can often detect lumps two or three years before they can be felt during a breast exam. Mammography can’t reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, but it can improve the outcome by helping to detect the cancer at an early stage.
- Mammograms save lives. Studies have shown a 25% reduction in breast cancer deaths among women who keep up with regular yearly mammograms. Breastcancer.org estimates that more than 500,000 breast cancer deaths have been prevented since 1989 because of mammography and advances in the treatment of breast cancer. But mammograms can still miss about 20% of breast cancers, so it’s also crucial to keep up with monthly self-exams at home and breast exams by your doctor during your annual checkup.
At least 80% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women over 50. The newest guidelines for when to start having mammograms and how often you should get them done apply to women at average risk of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it is recommended that women over age 45 have yearly mammograms until age 55, when screenings can change to every other year. Women can still choose to have mammograms starting at age 40 and should talk to their doctors about whether screening at this age is right for them. If you have a family history of breast cancer – a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) or two or more other relatives – it may be suggested that you begin mammography earlier.
The federal Affordable Care Act has deemed mammograms as a preventive procedure that must be covered by insurance at no charge to the patient (no copayments, coinsurance or deductibles). If you don’t have health insurance, there are a number of federal and state programs that offer free or low-cost mammograms.
If you missed your mammogram, it’s time to call and reschedule your appointment. Across the country, health centers and mammography clinics are taking precautions to make sure visits are safe, including staggering appointments, testing staff, screening patients for COVID-19 and increasing the cleaning of equipment and other surfaces within facilities. The risk of contracting COVID-19 from getting a mammogram is low compared to the benefits this cancer screening offers.
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Date Last Reviewed: August 12, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD