Save Your Life

Topic: Your Mammogram Could Save Your Life

I remember hearing my health-care provider inform me that my most recent mammogram was abnormal and simply wondering, “How could that be possible?”

Even during COVID-19, I never missed a screening, and I regularly check my breasts at home for lumps or other indications of a larger problem. Prior to my mammogram in March, I didn’t experience anything unusual, so I was certain it would be another run-of-the-mill screening.

I was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I write to you from the recovery of a preventative double mastectomy — a decision I made to combat my high level of risk for breast cancer. Without that mammogram, I never would’ve known the decisions I could make to give me the best chance of a healthy future.

Mammography is the process of using low-energy X-rays to examine breasts and detect areas of abnormality within breast tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, and mammograms are the only method proven to reduce the mortality rate through early detection.

Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25 to 30% or more. With early detection, you can access early (and often less extensive) treatment, which lowers the opportunity for cancer to grow and increases your chances of survival.

If you’re at high risk for breast cancer — you have dense breasts or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, for example — schedule a mammography screening as soon as you can.

Otherwise, doctors recommend women start conversations with their health-care provider about mammograms at 40.

Even if you don’t have any risk factors, it’s still important not to miss your annual mammograms: About 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of the disease. Plus, it’s especially critical as you get older. The probability of developing breast cancer within 10 years is 1 in 68 after age 40; 1 in 43 after 50; and 1 in 28 after 60.

Despite your understanding of the significance of mammograms, you might still think there’s no harm in missing just one screening. Let me stop you right there and debunk that idea.

I’ve never missed my annual mammogram and my doctors still identified areas of concern that link to a high risk of breast cancer that led me to get a preventative double mastectomy. A large study of almost 550,000 women over a 24-year period found that women who skip even one scheduled mammogram before a breast cancer diagnosis face a significantly higher risk of dying from cancer.

Topic Discussed: Your Mammogram Could Save Your Life

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