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Skipping Mammograms Raises a Woman's Odds for Breast Cancer Death

Published on Jun. 08, 2022

calendar with "schedule mammogram" written on a checklist item

Don't skip your annual breast cancer screening mammogram.

This is the overarching message of a large 2021 study of more than a half-million Swedish women. Those who missed even one recommended screening mammogram were more likely to die from breast cancer, the study found.

The findings* are concerning, given the widespread delays and cancellations of preventative cancer screenings that have taken place during the pandemic.

"Next to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of fatal cancer in women. Delaying or avoiding your mammogram screening won’t stop breast cancer from developing and spreading. It will only delay detection,” says Yelena Kier, DO, FACOI, a Medical Oncologist at Munson Healthcare. “You can save your own life by getting your regular, routine mammogram."

*published March 2, 2021 in the journal Radiology.

In this blog:

  1. How Routine Mammograms Can Save Your Life
  2. When Should You Have Your First Mammogram?
  3. What Happens During a Mammogram?
  4. What Are 3-D Mammograms – And Do I Need One?
  5. It’s Never Too Late to Begin Screening

How Routine Mammograms Can Save Your Life

woman receiving a mammogram with a machineWhat the study revealed. In the study, women who had shown up for routine mammograms for two consecutive years prior to their breast cancer diagnosis were 50% less likely to die from breast cancer within 10 years than women who avoided both screenings. Women who missed one of their last two recommended mammograms were about 30% less likely to die from breast cancer, the study showed.

Details of the study. The study covered more than 549,000 Swedish women from 1992 to 2016. During that time, women ages 40-54 were advised to have mammograms every 18 months, while women ages 55-69 were advised to have mammograms every two years.

"The take-home message is for women 40-plus to participate in regularly scheduled mammograms. Skipping your mammograms or sticking to a looser schedule can prove fatal,” says Dr. Kier. “Even just missing one annual mammogram can significantly increase your odds of dying from breast cancer.”

When Should You Have Your First Mammogram?

Routine mammograms are generally recommended for women starting around age 40-50. Your provider will let you know during your annual wellness visit or your annual well-woman visit when it’s time to schedule one. If you’re at higher risk, your regular mammograms may begin as early as age 30 or even younger. Do you have higher-than-average risk factors for breast cancer? Take our quiz.

If you don’t have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic mutation for breast cancer, it may be tempting to skip your mammogram. But it might surprise you to know that a whopping 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your primary care provider or your OB/GYN about the best age to begin screening – and how often to screen.

What Happens During a Mammogram?

mammogram calendarDuring a mammogram, your technician will take X-ray images of your breasts to detect lumps and any other abnormalities. In order to take thorough images so the radiologist who later reads your X-rays can study all of your breast tissue, your technician will help you place each breast on a platform. She will then compress the mammogram machine until your breast is flattened, and ask you to hold still for several seconds while she takes the X-rays.

Each of your breasts will be placed in a total of two different positions to provide the best overall imaging. The entire process typically takes about 20-30 minutes.

What Are 3-D Mammograms – And Do I Need One?

If you have denser breasts (more common if you’re in your 40s or younger) or you’re at higher risk for breast cancer, you may want to consider a 3-D mammogram, which can detect smaller growths thanks to the more detailed images it’s able to take. 3-D mammography can also reduce your chance of receiving a call-back request for further imaging – or even an unnecessary biopsy.

It’s Never Too Late to Begin Screening

If your mammogram – or any other important screening – was canceled or skipped due to the pandemic or other reasons, make it a priority to reschedule it. Continuing to delay what could be breast cancer only increases your odds of fatality. Take heart that even the most advanced stage of breast cancer is often treatable.

If you've recently had a COVID-19 vaccination or booster, be aware that lymph nodes on the side where the shot was received may swell. Because the swollen lymph nodes may show up on X-ray, the Society of Breast Imaging recently recommended women wait four weeks after vaccination to have their mammogram.

Schedule Your Mammogram Today

Talk to your primary care provider or family doctor about a referral for your mammogram. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, use our Find-a-Doc feature to find one close to where you live.

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