We're Talking Mammograms

3 minute read

By: Sharon D. Malone, MD|Last updated: November 2, 2022
Painterly Illustration of various breast shapes in grid pattern on pink background. AW524

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so today we’re talking mammograms. Getting screened on a regular basis is an incredibly important part of staying healthy. While mammograms can be anxiety-provoking and physically uncomfortable, you’ll never regret going.

If you’re due, stop reading this email and schedule yours now! I’ll wait.

Done? Great. Back to it. Let’s talk a little bit about when you should start getting checked, because there isn’t exactly one consensus. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends offering screening mammograms at 40 and starting between 40 and 50. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting at 50, and the American Cancer Society recommends offering mammograms between 40 and 45 and recommending that you start at 45. Clear as mud, right? Needless to say, where there is disagreement, there is often uncertainty.

The bottom line is that there is no right answer. ACOG recommends that doctors, in consultation with their patients, decide on when to start. There is, however, consensus around the upper age limit of starting. Although there is some leeway on whether to start at 40 or 45, everyone agrees that screening should start no later than 50. And once you start, you’ll need to go every year or every other year, depending on your situation.

There are two types of mammograms. Screening mammograms are your regularly scheduled, every year or every other year checkup, done for asymptomatic women. Diagnostic mammograms are done for women experiencing symptoms (such as masses, nipple discharge, or skin charges), women who are at high risk for breast cancer, women who’ve had premenopausal breast or ovarian cancer, and women who have had previous breast biopsies with certain specific findings.

So, what’s the difference? Technically, they’re actually the same test. The difference is that with a diagnostic mammogram, the radiologist will read the results while you’re there and give them to you right away. If they see something suspicious, you’ll have follow-up testing while you’re at the office instead of getting a phone call a few days or a week later. Getting a callback on a mammogram is extremely anxiety provoking, but the overwhelming majority of callbacks are not cancer.

At Alloy, we encourage you to make informed decisions about your health with your doctor, and also to stay up-to-date on all of your checkups and tests. In order to get Menopausal Hormone Treatment, we require that you have an up-to-date mammogram. If you need one (and you didn’t schedule it at the beginning of this email), here’s another reminder to do it. Like I said, you’ll never regret going.

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