Published on October 08, 2015

5 mammogram myths. (And yes, they do work.)5 mammogram myths. (And yes, they do work.)

The subject of mammograms has been confusing ever since 2009, when the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that screening begin at the age of 50 and only be done biannually for women between the ages of 50 and 74.

This advice contradicted what many medical groups have long recommended, so we asked Cape Cod Hospital radiologist Anne Morris, MD, for the most recent advice on mammograms.

“Mammography is the best tool available to screen for breast cancer. It has helped reduce the breast cancer death rate in the United States by 30 percent,” Dr. Morris says. “Both the American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging recommend that women receive annual mammograms starting at age 40.”

Dr. Morris supports earlier screening because one in six breast cancer cases occur in women between the ages of 40 and 49. She says that mammography can detect cancer when it’s the most treatable. This means treatment is less invasive, which not only saves lives, but helps preserve the quality of life.

Here are her responses to five common myths about mammograms:

Myth No. 1: You don’t need a mammogram if you have no family history of breast cancer.

Fact: While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only about 10 percent of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.

Myth No. 2: Mammograms don’t help.

Fact: Overall, the sensitivity of mammography is about 84 percent. This means mammography correctly identifies about 84 percent of women who have breast cancer.

Myth No. 3: Mammograms cause cancer.

Fact: Mammograms require very small doses of radiation and the benefits of mammography outweigh the potential harm from the extremely low radiation exposure.

Myth No. 4: Mammograms are inaccurate and can lead to unnecessary pain and suffering.

Fact: One downside of missing so few cancers is false positive results. These occur when a mammogram finds something that is concerning for cancer, but turns out to be benign. Getting a false positive result can cause short-term fear and worry. However, these feelings do not tend to have lasting effects.

Myth No. 5: Mammograms are painful.

Fact: Breast compression during a mammogram can be painless for some women while uncomfortable for others. Compression is necessary to obtain the clearest view possible with the least amount of radiation.

Knowing what to prepare for helps ease the minds of most women. Here are some things you should know before you go:

  • Avoid having a mammogram the week before your menstrual cycle, as this is when breasts are most tender.
  • Abstain from consuming caffeine or chocolate during the week before your mammogram, as they cause breast sensitivity in some women.
  • Try to relax. When a patient is nervous the chest muscles are tightened and can create more discomfort. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever an hour before the appointment may help.
  • Do not wear any deodorant or lotion. These can show up on the image as small white dots and be confused with a problem in the breast.