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Mammo Myths

Mammo Myths: True or False

Whether you’re new to mammograms or well versed, you might not know the real scoop.

To discern which tales are facts and which are falsehoods, we went to breast radiologist Jibi Thomas, MD, Director of Breast Imaging, Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital. “We want to keep you as healthy as we can,” he says. “That’s our job.”

MYTH ONE. MAMMOGRAMS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD DUE TO RADIATION.

FALSE. “Mammograms are the best tool to find breast cancer, and the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Dr. Thomas says. “The exam uses a very small dose of radiation, which has gotten smaller as screenings have become more advanced. We use the minimum amount needed to get a good quality image.”

According to Dr. Thomas, advancements such as 3-D tomography enables radiologists to use fewer yet more discerning images.

Research shows that most women get four views – two per breast. “The radiation typically is equivalent to two months of the background radiation that we all get in our world, no matter what we do,” says Dr. Thomas.

MYTH TWO. IF YOU HAVE NO FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER YOU DON’T NEED AN ANNUAL MAMMOGRAM.

FALSE. “I hear that from patients almost daily, but 75 percent of newly diagnosed breast cancer is found in women with no family history at all,” Dr. Thomas says.

MYTH THREE. ONLY WOMEN OVER 40 NEED MAMMOGRAMS.

FALSE. While all women age 40 or older should get screened, “a subset of women should start earlier,” Dr. Thomas says.

Women more vulnerable to early breast cancer include African-Americans, who should start mammography at 30, according to the latest guidelines from The Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) and the American College of Radiology (ACR).

So should women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, those known to have a genetic mutation making them more vulnerable to those cancers or those who had childhood malignancies that led them to be exposed to radiation to the chest as part of their treatment.

“Those women should start at age 25,” Dr. Thomas says. “We want to detect any cancer as early as possible.”

MYTH FOUR. WHERE YOU GET YOUR BREAST SCREENING DOESN’T MATTER.

FALSE. “Not only does it matter where you get your mammogram but who reads it,” Dr. Thomas says.

Memorial Hermann Breast Care Centers offer state-of-the-art equipment, including the latest MRIs, ultrasounds and 3-D mammograms (digital breast tomosynthesis) helping radiologists to spot smaller tumors sooner. And only radiologists specializing in and working full-time on breast cancer screenings read the images.

Both improve your odds of early detection and a full recovery. “We have great collaborations with our surgeons, oncologists and Oncology Nurse Navigators,” says Dr. Thomas. “And our techs are trained to be compassionate.”

These traits are not always found at all imaging centers. “Other screening centers might have radiologists who read for all conditions, which is less than ideal,” adds Dr. Thomas.

MYTH FIVE. MAMMOGRAMS ARE PAINFUL.

FALSE. “You’ll experience a tolerable and temporary discomfort of 15 to 45 seconds per picture—and for the vast majority of women less than two minutes total,” Dr. Thomas says. “Your breasts are compressed so we can reduce the thickness of the tissues to detect abnormalities easier. This also enables us to use less radiation.”

MYTH SIX. IF YOU HAVE BREAST IMPLANTS, YOU CANNOT GET A GOOD MAMMOGRAM.

FALSE. About one in five patients at Memorial Hermann Breast Care Centers have breast implants.

“It’s more of a challenge and requires a few more views in which implants are moved out of the field of view, since X-rays cannot go through foreign materials such as silicone or saline,” Dr. Thomas says.

But you’re worth it, he notes. “Early detection is key.”

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