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Mammogram myths: what women need to know

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to remind women about getting a mammogram.
October 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to remind women about getting a mammogram. Doctors say they hear all kinds of excuses and reasons why some women don't think they need to get one. So what's true and what's not when it comes to mammogram myths?

Looking back, 50-year-old Rachelle Galasko is glad a friend convinced her to stick to her mammogram appointment.

"If it wasn't for her -- I just kind of kept putting it off and she was my savior," said Rachelle.

Her "savior" because doctors were able to identify tiny cancerous cells.

In Rachelle's case, these tiny calcifications turned out to be ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). It's what doctors call "stage zero" cancer and that's what mammography is all about: catching cancer this early.

"It is better to find things small as opposed to big," said Dr. Maureen Chung.

Dr. Chung heads the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Saint John's Health Center. She says a recent study found 75 percent of women who died from breast cancer had skipped their mammogram for at least three years.

"The median age of diagnosis of breast cancer, women who died of breast cancer, is 49, suggesting if you want until 50, it may be too late to start your screening program," said Chung.

"We have not seen any cancers from screening mammography," said Chung.

Dr. Chung says the exposure is lower than you would get from a year of daily living.

Then there's the fear of false positives and the tests that follow. She admits that can be a downside, but it's usually a win-win situation.

"If you have cancer and you're found early, that's good. If you don't have cancer at least you know you don't have anything there," said Chung.

As for the test being painful, she says you can ask your technician about controlling the pressure yourself.

Rachelle ended up getting a double mastectomy for peace of mind. She hopes this friendly reminder like the one she got a few years ago will save other women's lives.

"They need to do a mammogram every year and just stay on top of everything," said Rachelle.

Dr. Chung says women should screen regularly starting at age 40 and then talk to their doctor about going every two years starting at age 50.

She says also to ask about getting digital mammography because she says it's easier to read.


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