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Fact Checking: Debunking Mammogram Myths

Friday, October 20, 2017 7:50 AM

Mammograms are often talked about during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sometimes the gossip that is associated with mammograms can be intimidating and may lead you to not get your necessary screening. The conversations can revolve around the ideas that mammograms don’t help and they’re inaccurate. But can you tell fact from gossip?

Jane Marie Jeske, MD, Radiology at NorthShore, clears up the confusion that clouds mammograms. If you have any questions or concerns about mammograms, be sure to talk to your doctor.

  • Myth: If you find a lump in your breast, it means you have cancer.
  • Fact: Most breast lumps are not cancer. However, if you discover a lump in your breast or notice any changes, don’t ignore it! Talk to your doctor and schedule a breast exam. Only a small percentage of lumps found in breasts turn out to be cancerous. Regular self-breast exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms will help you detect any abnormalities.
  • Myth: Mammograms do not help.
  • Fact: It is quite the opposite! Regular mammograms are the best single screening test for early detection. Finding breast cancer early can result in less-invasive surgical procedures and easier treatment options.
  • Myth: Mammograms are painful.
  • Fact: Everyone’s pain threshold is different. It may be uncomfortable for some women, but it is frequently described as a minor discomfort. In most cases, each mammogram compression lasts for only a few seconds. The majority of women agree that the benefit of finding cancer early outweighs the brief discomfort.
  • Myth: Mammograms are almost always inaccurate.
  • Fact: While mammograms are not 100% perfect, they are the best screening tool available for early detection.
  • Myth: Mammograms only detect cancer after it is too late.
  • Fact: Mammograms diagnose cancer at all stages of development. That is why it is so important to schedule annual mammograms for early detection.
  • Myth: If there is no family history of breast cancer, a mammogram is not needed.
  • Fact: Annual mammogram screenings are always recommended. The majority of women who are currently diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a significant family history of breast cancer. Family history should not be ignored, but we all need to be vigilant – early detection is our best strategy in the fight against breast cancer.
  • Myth: Mammograms are unnecessary; self-exams are just as effective.
  • Truth: While self-exams are important because you know your body best, it is not enough to detect cancer. The goal of mammograms is to find breast cancer before it is large enough to be felt. The earlier a cancer is found, the better the chance to be cured.
  • Myth: A normal mammogram means you can skip next year’s mammogram.
  • Fact: Early detection is key. Skipping a year could potentially mean you miss an opportunity for early breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Myth: Men don’t get breast cancer so they don’t need to self-exam.
  • Fact: While it is a small percentage, there are men who develop breast cancer. Men should perform regular self-exams and contact a doctor if they notice any changes.
  • Myth: Mammograms are too expensive to have every year.
  • Fact: Talk to your doctor and insurance provider. Medicare will pay for an annual screening mammogram for all women, beginning at age 40. Currently, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover an annual mammogram screening.


  • Myth: If you have dense breasts, you don’t need a mammogram.
  • Fact: Women over the age of 40 should get an annual screening mammogram as it can help identify potential breast cancers early, when they are most treatable. If you are told you have dense breast tissue, you should speak with your physician to see if you should get a whole breast ultrasound in addition to your annual mammogram. Whole breast ultrasound may detect cancers that mammograms alone may miss in women with dense breast tissue


Did you schedule your annual mammogram? Make sure to remind your family and friends to schedule theirs.