There's a lot of misinformation about screening mammography, so we're breaking down some of the most persistent myths and giving you the real facts instead.
Myth: Your chance of getting breast cancer decreases with age.
The biggest risk factor
for breast cancer is being a woman over 50 years of age. Over 80% of new breast cancers diagnosed each year in BC are in women age 50 or older.
Myth: You can’t get screened if you have breast implants.
Women with breast implants should have regular mammograms
. Please note that you won’t be able to make an appointment directly with the Screening Mammography Program of BC (SMP) as you may require special positioning and possibly some additional images. Contact your primary care provider for a referral for a screening mammogram at a diagnostic imaging office.
Myth: All breast cancers can be detected on a mammogram.
No screening test is perfect, and mammography is no exception. Factors like age or breast density
can influence the look of breast tissue on a mammogram, making cancers more or less difficult to recognize. In general, screening mammograms are less effective in younger women because they tend to have denser breasts. About 25% of cancers in women ages 40-49 are not picked up by a screening mammogram, compared with about 10% in women older than 50.
Myth: Mammograms are unsafe and ineffective.
Fact: Screening mammograms are the international gold standard for detecting breast cancer early. Mammograms can usually find lumps 2 or 3 years before a woman or her health care provider can feel them.
Myth: Radiation exposure during a mammogram can cause cancer.
Mammograms require very small doses of radiation– the equivalent to 6 months of background radiation exposure from daily living. The risk of harm from this amount of radiation exposure is low, and the benefits outweigh the risk. Furthermore, there has never been a case of breast cancer proven to be caused from radiation exposure during a mammogram. If you would like to know more about radiation safety, please visit the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada
Myth: You don’t need to get screened for breast cancer before age 40.
Fact: Routine screening
is not recommended for women under age 40 because the risk of breast cancer is low. Also, screening mammograms are not as effective in detecting breast cancer in younger women because they generally have dense breast tissue, which can make it more difficult to detect breast cancer on a mammogram. However, SMP does accept women at high risk of developing breast cancer who are under age 40 with a doctor's referral. Please consult your primary care provider for more information.
Myth: All breast cancers are life-threatening.
Fact: Not all breast cancers are life-threatening, but most cancers will grow if left untreated. Some breast cancers detected by screening may never cause any harm, but it is not possible to tell which cancers will (or will not) turn into a life-threatening cancer in the future.
Myth: Compression of the breasts causes cancer.
Fact: There is no scientific evidence that compression of the breast causes cancer. Also, breast compression while getting a mammogram cannot cause cancer to spread. Compression of the breast during a mammogram assists in separating the breast tissue to reveal any abnormalities. It also helps to hold the breast in place which eliminates blur on the image.
Whether you visit a permanent clinic or a temporary one set up by a mobile mammography service, all are equally accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists Mammography Accreditation Program
and will provide you with high quality care. At all mobile locations, you will find professional, friendly staff who are happy to answer all your questions and make your appointment comfortable and pleasant.