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Mammograms are more important than ever

Women’s Health | October 5, 2021
Group of three mature women laughing
One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s why mammograms are so vital.

Think of eight women in your life…your mom, grandma, sister, neighbor or friends from school, book club or church.

Chances are good that at least one will have or has had breast cancer.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.

It’s also the deadliest type for women, with rates of death due to breast cancer higher for women than that of any other cancer.

Mammograms make a difference

The good news is that breast cancer has a 99% five-year survivability rate for localized cancer, which may largely be due to the positive impact of screening mammography.

Since 1990, screening mammograms have helped reduce breast cancer mortality by 40% by detecting small, early-stage breast cancers.

Coincidentally, the now-very-familiar pink ribbon was first used in 1991—and officially adopted in 1992—to raise awareness of breast cancer.

When to start? How often?

So when should you or someone you love start getting mammograms? And how often?

It depends.

Experts agree mammograms are the best screening test for women at average risk.

But they don't all agree on the age at which a woman should start or whether it is better for her to be screened every year or every two years, according to HealthWise.

One of the leading sources, the US Preventive Services Taskforce, currently recommends the following:

  • Women who are 50 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer get a mammogram no less than every two years.
  • Women who are 40 to 49 years old should talk to their doctor or other health care professional about when to start and how often to get a mammogram.
  • Women who are younger than 40 years or older than 75 years should talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks of screening mammography for their age.

Keep in mind that three out of four women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and are not considered high risk.

While breast cancer is more prevalent in women who are white or Hispanic, Black women tend to have more aggressive breast cancers with greater mortality rates. It is especially important for African American women who are in their 30s to talk with their doctor about screening for breast cancer.

Mammography is covered.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most health insurance plans are required to cover screening mammograms every one to two years for women beginning at age 40 with no out-of-pocket cost (like a co-pay, deductible, or co-insurance). 

Did you know that free or low-cost mammograms and pap smears are available? If you can’t pay for screenings, call 1-800-992-1817 or visit the CDC screening page to learn more.

Self-exam are important too.

In addition to regular mammograms, do a self-exam every month (two weeks after your last menstrual period). Check for any unusual changes such as:

  • Changes and lumps on the inside or outside of your breasts, chest, pectoral muscles, collarbone, nipples, torso, or underarms.
  • Strange discharge or fluid from the nipples that is bloody, clear, or pus-like that smells foul.
  • Skin changes that are bumpy, dark, different color, itchy, painful, puckered, rash-like, redness, sores, ulcers, shrunken, swollen, or tender.

Being proactive about breast health can help you and all of the other women in your life find breast cancer early and get life-saving treatment.

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