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Five mammogram myths

Do you think it is not a big deal to skip your mammogram this year? Are you concerned that a mammogram uses too much radiation? An annual mammogram can help women aged 40 and older detect breast cancer earlier, leading to less aggressive treatment and a higher rate of survival.

Our experts explore five common mammogram myths that could have a serious impact on your long-term health. Learn the truth about this lifesaving screening.

Myth 1: I don’t have any symptoms of breast cancer or a family history of it, so I don’t need to worry about having an annual mammogram. 

Fact: The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening mammograms for all women over 40, regardless of symptoms or family history. “Early detection is critical,” says Dr. Susan Harvey, director of breast imaging at Johns Hopkins’ Radiology and Radiological Science department in Baltimore, USA.

“If you wait until you have symptoms of breast cancer – such as a lump or discharge – to have a mammogram, the cancer may be more advanced and may no longer be curable.”

According to the American Cancer Society, early-stage breast cancers have a five-year survival rate of 99 percent. Later-stage cancers have a survival rate of 24 percent. Ninety percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of it. “Most breast cancers are spontaneous genetic changes that occur in the individual, and are not necessarily due to family history or a breast cancer gene,” warns Dr. Harvey.

Myth 2: A mammogram will expose me to an unsafe level of radiation.

Fact: “While a mammogram does use radiation, it is a very small amount and is within the medical guidelines,” says Dr. Harvey. Because mammography is a screening tool, it is highly regulated. A mammogram is safe as long as the facility you go to is certified by the regulating agencies. There is constant background radiation in the world that we are exposed to every day. The radiation dose from a mammogram is equal to about two months of background radiation for the average woman.

Myth 3: A 3D mammogram is the same as a traditional mammogram.

Fact: Three-dimensional mammography, or tomosynthesis, is the most modern screening and diagnostic tool available for early detection of breast cancer. Compared with a standard 2D mammogram, a 3D mammogram displays more images of the breast, and in thin sections of breast tissue. “3D mammograms provide us with greater clarity and the ability to determine the difference between normal tissue and cancer,” says Dr. Harvey. “With 3D mammography, the data shows a 40 percent increase in detecting early cancer, and a 40 percent decrease in false alarms or unnecessary recalls from screening.”

Myth 4: If I have any type of cancer in my breast tissue, a screening mammogram is guaranteed to find it. 

Fact: “While annual mammograms are very important for women, there are limitations,” says Dr. Harvey. This is mostly due to dense breast tissue – the denser the breast, the more likely it is that a cancer will be hidden by the tissue. “Normal breast tissue can both hide a cancer and mimic a cancer,” says Dr. Harvey. Other imaging methods can be used for women with dense breast tissue, such as 3D mammography, breast MRI or breast ultrasound, to obtain additional images.

Myth 5: I had a normal mammogram last year, so I don’t need another one this year. 

Fact: Mammography is detection, not prevention. “Having a normal mammogram is great news, but it does not guarantee that future mammograms will be normal,” says Dr. Harvey. “The largest trials in history have shown a 33 percent decrease in death from breast cancer in women older than 40 who had regular screening mammograms.”

This content was originally published by the Marketing and Communications office of Johns Hopkins Medicine. It has been republished here with that office’s permission. Additional reuse and reprinting is not allowed. Information is intended to educate readers, and is not a substitute for consulting with a physician.

 Find out more about our breast cancer and mammogram services at JHAH

 Article: Letter from a breast cancer survivor

 

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