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Clarifying Mammogram Confusions

Confusion about mammograms — when should you start getting them? How often should you get them? Various experts just couldn’t seem to agree on mammogram rules that even Washington DC politicians had to step in. It’s not surprising. Here’s how the confusion started…

  • On October 2015, the American Cancer Society issued new recommendations. Instead of proposing mammograms annually starting at age 40, they suggested skipping years between screenings. Later, the ACS adjusted its guidance, recommending mammograms start at age 45.
  • Then on January 2016, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged women to stick to the previous recommendation — start annual mammograms at age 40.
  • A day later, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federal government appointed a team, said women of average breast cancer risk could wait until age 50 but agreed most women should get annual mammograms.

Huh?!

All this lack of clarity led Congress to speak up. It ordered health insurance companies to ignore the task force findings and stick to the original guidance — annual screenings should start at age 40. That’s correct, all health plans that are compliant with the Affordable Care Act offer free yearly preventive mammograms to women age 40 and above.  Even with this federal requirement, The State of Texas has its own guidelines. It requires health plans (like plans offered by Vista360health) to cover yearly preventive mammograms, for free starting at age 35.

Your Risk is Personal

At the end of the day, each woman’s risk is based on factors that are different per each individual. While mammograms aren’t perfect (no screening is), it is an invaluable tool for determining early, if you have breast cancer. And breast cancer identified early is very treatable and, in some cases, curable. So, why delay!

If there is one thing that everyone agrees on it’s this — holding off a screening without careful consideration is the riskiest option. Talk to your doctor, assess your risk and don’t delay.

Risk Factors You Can’t Change

  • Being a Woman. Ok, we know this one is a no-brainer, but did you know that men can get breast cancer too? (about 1% of cases are men). However, women are 100 times more likely to get it.
  • Close Family History. You can’t change your family, (on some holiday’s you might wish you could), nevertheless if a close relative (sister, mother, daughter) is diagnosed with breast cancer you have a higher risk of developing the disease. Some data have suggested your risk for the disease nearly doubles.

Risk Factors You Can Change

  • Lack of Physical Activity. There is growing evidence that regular activity can reduce breast cancer in women. How much activity isn’t clear but the American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week.
  • Drinking alcohol. The risk of breast cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Women who have 2 to 3 drinks a day have a 20% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don’t.

Know your risk. Learn more at the www.cancer.org.