October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a month where women are encouraged to schedule their annual mammograms. A mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast and is most often used to look for early signs of breast cancer in women. Mammograms remain the best way to find the early stages of breast cancer.

Who should get a mammogram?

It is recommended that anyone who is born female screen for breast cancer with mammograms. Most individuals begin screening yearly at age 45. Those 55 years and older with reduced risk may switch to getting a mammogram every other year if recommended by their medical provider.

Individuals at high risk of breast cancer may want to begin screening earlier. High-risk individuals include those with a family history of breast cancer and those who experience unexplained changes in breast shape or feel.

While those born male can get breast cancer, a mammogram is not the recommended test when screening for breast cancer. Instead, clinical breast exams, ultrasounds and breast tissue biopsies are recommended in place of mammograms.

Why do you need a mammogram every year?

Mammograms are the best tool we have to screen for and detect early stages of breast cancer. When you are screened each year, you increase the chances of finding breast cancer before it spreads. Early detection allows for more treatment options and can save your life. When breast cancer is detected in the localized stage – meaning there are no signs the cancer has spread outside of the breast – the five-year survival rate is 99%. This means that, of those diagnosed with localized breast cancer, 99 out of 100 are still alive after five years.  These are wonderful odds and highlights the need for regular screening.

How do you prepare for a mammogram?

Mammograms are simple and fast tests that take less than 30 minutes. However, even though they are over quickly, many worry about the procedure. There are several ways to prepare for a mammogram that can help calm your nerves and make the process easy:

  • Do not wear deodorant, lotion, powder or perfumes under your arms or near your breasts. Particles from these products sometimes show up on mammograms and cause a false negative reading.
  • You will need to take off your shirt and bra, so wear a two-piece outfit.
  • Do not wear neck jewelry to your mammogram appointment. Neck jewelry can interfere with the x-ray, and you will need to remove it before your mammogram can be done.
  • Mammograms can be uncomfortable for some. You can take over-the-counter pain medication before your mammogram to help with pain or discomfort.
  • You will need to stand to get your mammogram, so wear comfortable, flat shoes.

Can you get a mammogram after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you have recently gotten your COVID-19 vaccine or are planning to get it soon, you should check with your medical provider to see how long you should wait to schedule a mammogram. Because the vaccine can cause swelling in the lymph nodes in the underarm area, experts recommend waiting four to six weeks to schedule a mammogram. This is so the swelling does not cause a false positive reading on the mammogram.

When should you start thinking about your risk of breast cancer?

It is never too early to talk with your medical provider about breast cancer. Talk with family members to learn more about your family’s medical background and share with your provider if there has been breast cancer in your family. If you feel a lump in your breast or see a change in your breasts’ shape, do not wait until your next mammogram to see a medical provider. Schedule an appointment as soon as possible. It is always better to be safe and get checked, even if it turns out to be nothing.

HealthLinc patients who complete a women’s wellness visit or mammogram in October will be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card. Call 1-888-580-1060 to schedule an appointment. If you are not a HealthLinc patient, please schedule an intake appointment.