When was your last mammogram? Has it been more than a year? Mammograms are easy to put off, especially during the pandemic, but sticking to an annual schedule is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
The physicians affiliated with Memorial Hermann Health System combine expertise with leading-edge technology to provide mammograms safely and conveniently.
If you have delayed your mammogram because of the pandemic, it’s time to schedule your appointment — with all the enhanced cleaning and safety precautions, you can feel comfortable getting the care you need with peace of mind.
Who needs a mammogram?
The American College of Radiology recommends that women at average risk for breast cancer begin annual screening mammograms at age 40. Based on your individual health and family history, your healthcare provider may recommend a different schedule.
In addition to an annual screening mammogram, you may also need to be examined if you are experiencing certain symptoms.
"Women know their own breasts better than anyone else," says Meghan Woughter, MD, breast radiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital. "If you do monthly breast self-exams, pick the same time each month and check for anything that feels different than normal. Besides lumps, other things that are potentially worrisome are skin changes in the breast or nipple discharge."
What is a 3-D mammogram?
A 3-D mammogram, also called breast tomosynthesis, is an advanced imaging exam that combines several different breast images to create a three-dimensional view of the breast. This technology is available at all Memorial Hermann locations.
"3-D mammograms help us see through dense breast tissue," says Dr. Woughter. "We can get a better look with a single exam, which means we don’t have to call back as many women for repeat exams, and it also helps us pick up more subtle cancers."
Don’t put it off
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States. Early detection can save lives, and having an annual screening mammogram can help identify problems sooner, when treatments are most successful. "If you are having any breast symptoms, definitely do not put it off," advises Dr. Woughter.
"Finding cancer early gives you more treatment options, especially when it comes to surgery," says Arlene Ricardo, MD, breast surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital. "When surgery is necessary, there is a much higher chance we can preserve the breast if the cancer is found when it is smaller."
The National Cancer Institute estimates that delayed diagnoses due to the pandemic could result in 10,000 additional deaths from breast and colorectal cancers in the next 10 years.
"Over the past year, I have seen more cases of advanced cancer than in previous years, and I think it’s because people didn’t come in because of the pandemic. It’s not their fault, but at this point we should all be coming in for routine screenings," says Dr. Ricardo.
Health and safety priorities
Even though we are still in the midst of the pandemic, the risk of infection while having a mammogram is very low. "We are encouraging women to come in to be screened. Our Breast Care Centers are very safe, where everyone is masked and we maintain safe physical distancing," says Dr. Woughter.
"People should not be afraid of coming into a healthcare facility," Dr. Ricardo says. "Patients are screened and are required by hospital policy to wear a mask to protect themselves and others. Be assured that we are doing everything possible to make it safe."
Mammograms and the COVID-19 vaccine
Women are advised to wait four to six weeks after their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before having a screening mammogram.
Some women experience temporary swelling in the lymph nodes in their armpits after receiving the vaccine, and this could cause a false-positive mammogram result. However, if you are having any breast symptoms, including finding a lump, you should not put off a mammogram and should contact your provider immediately.
One lesson we have all learned from the pandemic is the importance of health. It’s time to take care of yours, and scheduling your annual screening mammogram is a great way to stay healthy.
Memorial Hermann offers a wide range of appointment times and convenient online scheduling for all locations across Greater Houston.