COVID-19 and mammograms: Benefits vs. risks

October 1, 2020

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If you had an appointment for a screening mammogram that was postponed or canceled, or if you delayed your screening due to COVID-19, you’re not alone. Although delaying a screening for a month or two isn’t a huge deal, pushing it out six months or longer could do you more harm than good.

The ultimate impact of delaying a mammogram is different for every person. However, if cancer goes undetected, it’s possible that a delay in getting diagnosed could lead to worsening of the symptoms and a higher stage of disease. So why take the risk?

Mammograms save lives

Did you know mammograms can detect breast cancer early, in some cases up to 3 years before it can be felt? Experts agree mammograms are the most effective tool to find breast cancer early when chances of survival are highest.

Whether you have a 2D screening mammogram, an x-ray of a breast that uses two pictures of each breast, or a 3D mammogram, a study that takes multiple cross-sectional pictures of breast tissue for an even more detailed image, either can detect breast cancer early when it is most treatable.

According to the National Cancer Institute, mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by nearly 40% since 1990.

Are mammograms safe during COVID-19?

How are hospitals and imaging centers making mammograms safe during COVID-19? It’s important to get answers to these questions before you go to your next screening exam. Ask your doctor or call the center where you typically have a mammogram to find out what steps are being taken to keep patients safe.

At Adventist Health, we are taking proactive steps to protect our patients, staff and communities, including:

  • Facility cleansing: We’ve taken extraordinary measure to ensure our rooms, registration areas, waiting rooms and patient care areas are thoroughly sanitized and disinfected, especially in high-touch, high traffic areas such as countertops, seating and handrails.
  • Social distancing: Patients are scheduled appropriately to avoid large groups in lobbies. In addition, we have modified our spaces to ensure patients can stand or sit at least six feet apart while waiting in lobbies or registering.
  • Screening prior to entry: In addition to having a single point of entry at our hospitals, we are screening every person for symptoms and risk factors prior to entering our facilities. This does take extra time, but this is for the safety of our patients and our staff.
  • Masking policy: We now require all staff and visitors wear a mask when in our hospital or clinics.

Who should schedule a mammogram?

If your screening mammogram was postponed or canceled, or if it’s overdue, it’s important to reschedule as soon as possible.

If you’re over 40 and haven’t had your first mammogram or you’re concerned about your risk of breast cancer, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help you review your risks, limitations and benefits of a mammogram to determine what’s right for you.

If you experience any symptoms such as lumps, swelling, nipple discharge or pain, or changes in the shape or texture of your breast, contact your doctor right away.

Still have concerns about getting a mammogram during COVID-19? You’re not alone. Talk with your doctor to discuss the risks versus the benefits of scheduling or postponing your screening, taking into account your risk factors, family history and the timing of your last screening.

Understand your risk

Did you know that in the U.S., a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8? Take into consideration your health, lifestyle and your family history, and your risk could be even higher. That’s why it’s important to understand your breast cancer risk and what steps you can take to lower it. If your assessment suggests you should get screened or if you have concerns, see your doctor and schedule your breast cancer screening sooner rather than later.