Many Women Skipping Breast Exams
Regular mammograms are a way to detect breast cancer early, often before it can be felt. But despite this, many American women still don't get ...

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Many Women Skipping Breast Exams

Finding breast cancer early is key to helping those diagnosed live long and healthy lives. Regular mammograms are a way to detect breast cancer early, often before it can be felt. But despite this, many American women still don't get regular mammograms.

Are you one of them? If you are, consider this: A regular mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast, can detect a breast lump an average two years before you could feel one. For women ages 50 to 74, regular mammograms may increase your odds of surviving breast cancer by 30 percent.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends women who are not at increased risk for breast cancer get mammograms every two years, starting at age 50 and through age 74. The USPSTF also says that for women younger than 50, the decision to have biennial screening mammograms is an individual one. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40. You are encouraged to talk to your doctor about the best time to start your mammogram screening.

Why do women avoid mammograms?


Too often, women are simply afraid to confront the issue. They may be afraid of the procedure or afraid that they'll discover they have cancer. Women who have had them will tell you mammograms are more uncomfortable than painful. Radiology professionals are taught how to reduce physical discomfort, protect privacy and respect personal modesty.


Many women think that if their first mammogram is negative, they don't need any more mammograms. Some women think estrogen causes cancer and conclude that once they reach menopause, they don't need mammograms any more. The fact is, a woman's chance of developing breast cancer increases as a woman ages.

The chance that an American woman will develop breast cancer by age 40 is one in 233. By age 50, that risk increases to one in 69. By age 69, a woman's risk of getting breast cancer is one in 29.

Women also believe that if they have no history of breast cancer in their family, then they are not at risk. In fact, most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have known risk factors.


If your reason for not having a mammogram is related to money, check with your health insurance company to see what's covered. Other options may be to check into state and local health programs. For example, some state and local health programs and employers provide mammograms free or at a low cost. Information on low-cost or free mammography screening programs is available through the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 800-4-CANCER.

You also can call your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or call its toll-free number, 800-ACS-2345, for information about low-cost or free mammograms.
By Geri K. Metzger, Contributing Writer
Created on 10/12/2000
Updated on 06/04/2012
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Progress review: cancer.
  • American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer.
  • National Cancer Institute. U.S. National Institutes of Health. Screening mammograms: questions and answers.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding mammograms.
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