It is often recommended that women at a certain age receive a mammogram to screen for potential health issues. The goal is to detect breast cancer at its early stages so that health risks can be minimized. There are many positives that come from such an emphasis on detection, but there are some risks that women face with regular mammograms as well. Here is a look at the pros and cons of this particular procedure.
The Pros of a Mammogram
1. The procedure has proven beneficial in reducing the risks of dying from breast cancer.
Early detection is the key to treating any cancer. Because women automatically face a higher risk of cancer development as they age and breast cancer is one of the most common cancers women face, regular screenings can detect cancer cells early and save a life.
2. New scanning techniques make the process easier and more accurate.
From breast imaging at the molecular level to 3D image production through tomosynthesis, there are a number of mammogram options that are in development or at a testing stage that can improve the accuracy of a tumor diagnosis. Although these options are not available as of yet, they are expected to improve care options within the near future.
3. It is a widely available screening tool.
Although some women are concerned with the structure of the testing process or its overall accuracy, mammograms are one of the most widely available screening tools that can help to detect early breast cancer. Even for women in their 40’s, when guidelines say mammograms aren’t necessary any more, the risks of breast cancer can be cut by 15% because of the testing process.
4. Women of any age can receive the test.
In many ways, the mammogram is an enhanced version of an x-ray. That means women of any age are able to have this test completed if necessary. After the age of 75, some physicians feel that the risks of the exam outweigh the rewards, but only if the patient is expected to live fewer than 10 more years. Ultimately it is up to each woman, in consultation with her doctor, to decide if a mammogram will be beneficial.
The Cons of a Mammogram
1. False positives are more common than many women realize.
It is not uncommon for women to initially have a positive result from their mammogram, only to discover with further testing that what was spotted was not cancer at all. This creates a lot of unnecessary stress, sometimes costly tests and treatments, and there is no recompense for women who go through this series of events. Even with co-pays and deductibles being met, a biopsy could be financially devastating to some households.
2. The procedure can be rather painful.
Poking, prodding, squeezing, tucking, and general discomfort are all part of the examination process with a mammogram. Many women don’t even believe their breasts can be compacted into the examination formation that is required to determine if breast cancer is present. It can be very painful, especially for women with larger breasts, and that causes many women to question whether the test is necessary.
3. Dense breast tissue may result in a false negative.
Once a tumor becomes so large that it is detectable by touch, the chances of survival dip dramatically for women. Some women, however, have very dense breast tissues that make it nearly impossible to detect small cancerous tumors that have developed. Women with dense tissues are at a higher risk of cancer development as well, so this almost works as a double negative since screening on all women can miss up to 20% of existing tumors.
4. Some breast cancers will actually go away on their own.
Mammograms will often detect small amounts of breast cancer and the initial move is to treat that cancer. Research in the past 5 years has shown, however, that there are some breast cancers that will actually go away on their own. This means there are women who go through radiation, chemotherapy, and even surgery needlessly because of the detected malignancy.
Some Women Have Decided That The Risks Outweigh The Rewards.
There is a 60% chance that a woman in her 40s will receive a false positive with annual exams. On the other hand, breast cancer treatments are easier when the cancer is detected earlier. By weighing the pros and cons of a mammogram, every woman can decide if this test is right for them.