Yes, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and that means it’s the time of year when everyone is reminding you to get screened! Getting screened for breast cancer isn’t particularly fun, it’s true, and many women put it off thinking they’re low risk and there’s no need to put themselves through that. However, early detection does save lives, and it can make the difference between beating breast cancer with minimum interruption to your life, or more serious, invasive procedures to fight this dangerous disease.
Who Should Get Screened?
Different sources say different things, but here’s the low-down of when to get screened according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Women who are 50 to 74 years should have a screening mammogram every 2 years
- Women who are 40 to 49 should talk with their doctors about how often to get screened (the doctor will make recommendations based on risk factors and family history)
- If a clinical breast exam at an annual physical turns up a lump, you should get screened
- If your monthly breast self exam (you are doing those, right?) turns up a lump, you should get screened
Keep in mind that clinical exams or breast self exams have not been found to decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer. The best way to identify potential cancer is with a mammogram, which is why it’s so important to get screened regularly. Don’t take a chance with your health!
What’s the Screening Process Like?
Factors may vary depending on where you go to get screened, but the screening process in general goes something like this:
- You make an appointment
- You arrive, a nurse gives you a gown, and you undress from the waist up
- When you go into the mammography room, the nurse will ask you to open your gown, and you’ll lay your breasts on the machine (typically one at a time)and it will be pressed between two plates
- An x-ray image is made, taking two views from each breast – one from the top to bottom and one from side to side
Some women find the pressure of the breasts between the plates uncomfortable, but the process only lasts for a few seconds. The entire process generally takes under 15 minutes.
Typically, you’ll get a set of instructions when you make the appointment of things to avoid on the day, such as wearing deodorants, perfumes, powders or lotions, because these things can show up on a mammogram and make it more difficult to interpret.
After the screening, if the mammogram has turned up any abnormality, the doctor will ask you to schedule a follow-up visit. You may undergo another mammogram, an ultrasound or a breast MRI. In some cases, your doctor may request a biopsy to determine the nature of the abnormality. It may be nothing, or it may require treatment – but catching it early is the key to successful treatment.
So – now that you know more about the screening process, make an appointment to get screened!