Mammograms help save lives by detecting breast cancer early. There are some common myths about mammograms that can prevent women from getting this important screening. Here are four of the most common myths about mammograms.

Myth #1: I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I don’t need a mammogram.

Family history is only one factor that can determine your risk for breast cancer. In fact, 85% of breast cancers that occur in women have no family history. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are age and gender.  Other risk factors include lifestyle such as diet, exercise and smoking history and your race or ethnicity. If you do have a family history of breast cancer, your risk of breast cancer is increased so it’s especially important to have yearly mammograms and be aware of other screening options that can help detect breast cancer early. “For women at average risk of developing breast cancer the guidelines still recommend starting yearly mammograms at age 40,” states Sonya Kella, MD, director of women’s imaging with Adventist HealthCare.

Myth #2: The radiation from mammograms is harmful and can cause cancer.

A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray picture of the breast and the amount of exposure is about the same as what you get from your natural surroundings over an average of two months. Dr. Kella states, “The life-saving benefits of mammograms and early detection outweigh the risks of radiation exposure. If you are concerned about radiation exposure, talk with your physician to determine what is right for you.”

Myth #3: Mammograms are painful.

Though pain tolerance is different for each person, the compression from a mammogram should not be painful for most women. Any discomfort or pressure experienced usually lasts for only a few moments. For women who experience more breast sensitivity before they start their period, waiting until your cycle is over can help with any discomfort. Newer mammogram technology, such as 3D mammograms, “are designed to be more comfortable for women,” says Dr. Kella.

Myth #4: I won’t need a mammogram until I turn 50.

There has been a lot of confusion in the last several years about when women should begin getting a mammogram. Dr. Kella says, “Most guidelines recommend women should begin getting mammograms at 40 and screenings should continue yearly for women with average risk. Those at higher risk may need screening at an earlier age and should talk with their physician about the best time to begin breast cancer screening.”

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