Getting Answers: mammogram’s ability to help detect breast cancer

Mammograms are considered the gold standard for detecting breast cancer early.
Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 12:59 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2022 at 4:30 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Mammograms are considered the gold standard for detecting breast cancer early. Mammograms can usually find lumps two or three years before you or your doctor can feel them. Baystate Health’s team of radiologists uses the latest technology to perform more than 60,000 mammograms a year.

“One in eight women will have breast cancer in their lifetime, so it’s essential that it is caught very early, as early as possible,” said Baystate Health radiologist Dr. Folashade Ajegba.

Ajegba told Western Mass News that a family history of breast cancer is cause for a higher-than-average risk, but the biggest risk factor is being a woman over 50. At the age of 30, there’s a one in 204 chance of breast malignancies. At age 40, that likelihood rises to one in 65. That’s why most women should start getting annual mammograms at age 40.

“The earlier you get it and it’s confined to the breast or maybe one lymph node, people do so well now with breast cancer and get to live the rest of their lives,” Ajegba added.

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can reveal problems before you have symptoms, detecting cancer when it’s small and easier to treat, but women face barriers when it comes to getting a mammogram.

“It ranges from life. People are busy. Women are multitaskers. They do a lot of work in the home, kids, but you really have to advocate for yourself. You really have to find a time because if you’re not well, you can’t do all these things that you’re running around doing,” Ajegba noted.

There are also misconceptions about the procedure.

“People think it’s painful to have a mammogram, but women really tolerate it well. First of all, it’s a very short period of time. Yes, we do want to have compression, but people tolerate it and they’re okay,” Ajegba explained.

The entire exam should last about 20 minutes with only a few seconds of compression and, most importantly, it could save your life.

Baystate said there was a significant drop in women getting mammograms over the pandemic, so if you’ve missed your annual screening, talk to your doctor about your breast cancer risk or schedule a mammogram today.