For the 1 in 8 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime, early detection — made possible by annual screenings — can help increase their chance for survival by as much as 20 percent. The American Cancer Society reports that female breast cancer death rates have been declining since 1989. Doctors attribute the decline to more women receiving regular mammograms as well as improved treatment methods once cancer is discovered. While mammograms undoubtedly have saved and will continue to save thousands of women’s lives, there are many women who are left vulnerable because of health care costs.

When should I get a mammogram?

Doctors recommend that women begin getting mammograms at age 40 and continue to get them annually thereafter. However, the recommended frequency may differ depending on your medical history and risk factors.

Self breast exams

Self-examining breast tissue is not a replacement for regular doctors visits or mammograms once you’re 40, but familiarizing yourself with your breast tissue from a young age can make it easier to detect a change, if one should occur. Starting at 18 years old, women should perform self-exams every month during the same time, as breast tissue consistency can change during menstruation. Self-exams should be conducted both while standing up and lying down. With the pads of your fingers, start in the middle of the breast and work your way out in circles. Breast tissue begins at the collarbone, extends to the middle part of the ribcage and goes across the middle of the breastbone into the armpit, so it’s important for women to cover the entire area while examining themselves. Healthy breast tissue can be somewhat lumpy, and every woman is different, so it’s important to be sensitive to changes and know what’s normal for your body.

What if I can’t afford a mammogram?

For uninsured patients, essential health screenings, such as mammograms, are made possible by a variety of health care organizations concerned with public health. Each October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many imaging centers and clinics offer mammograms at reduced rates, including the Breast Center at Sunrise, Red Rock Radiology, and Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center. You also can check with your primary care physician to find other low-cost screening opportunities year-round.

Men also should be aware of any lumps that develop in their chest and should see a doctor if a lump is found. While occurrence is rare, older men have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, as do men who have genetic risk factors, such as BRCA gene mutations. A doctor can recommend whether a mammogram, MRI or biopsy is necessary.

More info

  • Recent immigrants are less likely to have regular mammograms. Forty percent of women living 10 years or less in the United States reported having mammograms, whereas 66 percent of women born in or living in the United States for 10 years or longer reported having had a mammogram in the past two years.
  • The use of mammograms has increased greatly between 1987 and 2013 among all racial and ethnic groups, but mammography rates remain persistently low among uninsured women.
  • Symptoms include a lump or hard knot inside the breast, chest or underarm; dimpling or puckering of the skin; sores or a rash on the nipple; sudden nipple discharge or bleeding; and swelling, warmth or color change.

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