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Our Best Defense Against Breast Cancer

by Gail Carlson, MPH Ph.D, State Health Education Specialist for University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia


Mammograms can be uncomfortable, some women find them down right painful.


Mammograms can be scary, or at least waiting for the results can be.

Mammograms can be embarrassing and time consuming, at least by some people's standards.

Let's face it, mammograms are no fun. Why lie about it. BUT, Breast Cancer isn't any fun either. The pain, the fear, and the amount of time involved in treating late stage breast cancer can be much worse.

Right now, mammograms along with self breast exams, are the best defense women have against breast cancer. The three primary risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman, getting older, or having a mother or sister who has had the disease. These are factors that women can't do much to change. However, just because you have one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will get breast cancer. It does mean that you need to take more responsibility for your health. One way of doing this is to get a mammogram.

Treatment is more effective and survival is high when cancer is found early. It is generally agreed that mammograms decrease deaths from breast cancer in women ages 50 and over. There is less agreement about their value for younger women. However, since mammography can show breast changes like lumps long before they can be felt, it is a good idea to have a base-line mammography sometime before age 50. Follow the advice of your health care provider in setting an appropriate schedule for you.

Mammograms are now covered by most, if not all, private insurance plans. Medicare also helps with the cost of mammograms for Medicare recipients. In addition, there is the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Project which provides mammograms for women who meet the eligibility guidelines. Contact your county health department for more information about BCCCP.

Mammograms are not perfect. However, done in combination with self-breast exams and periodic exams by your health care provider, they are effective in detecting most breast cancer early. Let's face it, mammograms may not be any fun. However, the alternative, a late stage diagnosis of breast cancer, is a lot worse.



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Last Updated 05/05/2009