That’s No Excuse: It’s Time to Get a Mammogram

That’s No Excuse: It’s Time to Get a Mammogram

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Nearly every woman worries about breast cancer. And for good reason. Every two minutes a woman in the United States is told she has breast cancer. Here’s the good news: When breast cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

Mammograms are one of the best ways to find it early. They can help detect breast cancer up to three years before it can be felt. So why do so many women put off their mammograms?

Some buy into dangerous myths about breast cancer. No lump, no cancer. No family history, no risk. Mammograms are for older women. Others have a false sense of security – believing a healthy lifestyle makes mammograms unnecessary. 

Procrastinators cite their own long list of reasons for skipping the potentially lifesaving screening: They’re too busy. They can’t miss work. They don’t have anyone to watch their kids.

Still, many are simply afraid. They think a mammogram might hurt. They worry about radiation. In the back of their minds, they’re scared cancer may be found.

Excuses, fear and denial don’t cut it when it comes to taking care of your health. Breast cancer is the most common cancer globally, and the most diagnosed cancer among American women. Each year, about 255,000 women are diagnosed with the disease.  Nearly 42,000 die women die every year from the disease.

Getting routine screening tests is the best way women can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about your total health, risk factors and family medical history. Those are the things that will determine the best testing plan for you. More information on breast cancer is available from the American Cancer Societyleaving site icon

Tips for Getting It Done

Consider making a day of it. Find a friend or family member who also needs a mammogram and schedule appointments for the same time. Or trade caregiving duties with a friend who also needs to catch up on her health appointments.

If you have a hard time getting away from work, ask about evening or Saturday appointments. Ask what days and times are best for short waits. See if you can complete any paperwork ahead of time online.

If concerns about cost are holding you back, don’t worry. Preventive mammograms are covered at no cost when the services are provided by a provider in your health plan’s network.*

Don’t Put It Off

Preventive screenings are a big part of fighting breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women 50 to 74 years old have a mammogram every two years. Other respected groups call for yearly testing.

If you are a woman 20 or older, talk to your doctor about clinical breast exams. If you are between 40 and 49 years old, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of mammograms and when you should start getting them.

Your doctor may want you to begin screening earlier if you have a family history of breast or other cancers.

Mammograms aren’t perfect. They may miss some cancers. An abnormal mammogram report does not always mean there is cancer, but you’ll need to have more tests or exams to find out.

Still, decades of research show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to find breast cancer early. That makes them less likely to need aggressive treatments like surgery and chemo. Most importantly, they are more likely to be cured.

How Can Breast Density Affect Your Mammogram?

You may have noticed an addition on your last mammogram results — a note about whether you have dense breasts. 

The Food and Drug Administration has four levels of breast tissue density, from category A (fatty) to D (extremely dense). 

You won’t be able to tell if your breasts are dense by the way they feel. It only shows up on your mammogram.

Why Is It Important?
It’s harder to detect cancer in dense breast tissue than in less dense tissue. But mammograms are still effective at screening for breast cancer, even for dense breast tissue.

What Causes Dense Breasts?
Things that can lead to dense breasts include:

  • Younger age
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Low body fat
  • Hormonal influences, including menstrual cycles
  • Hormone changes (after hormone therapy)

If you have dense breast tissue, talk to your doctor about whether you should have additional screening tests for breast cancer.

*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: Breast Cancer Myths vs. Factsleaving site icon, 2021; U.S. Breast Cancer Statisticsleaving site icon, 2021; Breast Cancer Early Detection and Diagnosisleaving site icon American Cancer Society; How Common Is Breast Cancer?  leaving site icon American Cancer Society, 2021; What Is a Mammogram?leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021; What Is Breast Cancer Screening?leaving site icon CDC, 2021; Basic Information About Breast Cancer, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; Breast Cancer: Risk Factors and Preventionleaving site icon American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2020; Breast Cancer: Screeningleaving site icon U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2016.

Originally published 9/4/2020; Revised 2021

  • Such a lie.  Too many women avoid mammograms because of the hidden costs.  You post this knowing fully that if we mention any possible risk factors to our health care provider that it will get "coded" as diagnostic and is no longer considered preventive.  If you do go for that mammogram and the radiologist finds something noteworthy, then they will highly recommend an ultrasound.  That will be full cost to "members" because now it is "diagnostic" again, even though you thought you were doing something preventive. No one tells you that part until you get that surprise bill and you call BlueCross customer service thinking this must be a mistake.  They tell you that you have to call your healthcare provider, basically passing the blame. You get the whole run-around and finally get connected with your "BVA" who is no more helpful to you than any of the other contacts you made over this series of time in which you thought you were simply taking care of your health and doing the preventive thing that BlueCross promises to cover with your premiums.  Please do not ignore my warning, I am not the only person this has happened to and I won't be the last.  Even BlueCross' "patient advocate" that I spoke to expressed that this tricky situation has happened to her as well and now she knows to go to the doctor not mentioning anything that might ail her and makes sure that her visits get coded as "routine" having to mention it many times during her visit.  What a scam.  Don't worry, I will be at every Open-Enrollment presentation making sure that others at my work place are aware of this false advertising.