Taking Care of Your Boomer Breasts
Whether you are 40, 50 or 70, the thought of a mammogram brings to mind unpleasant feelings. However, starting at the age of 40 (the guidelines appear to change annually), all women would be wise to schedule a routine and consistent mammogram. This helps ensure breast health and goes a long way toward catching potential issues early. Given that over ninety percent of breast cancer diagnoses belong to women over forty, maintaining breast exams is a must for senior women.
Some vital facts and information about mammograms are as follows:
- Medicare covers quite a lot regarding mammograms and breast health
- There are different types of mammograms
- How to prepare for a mammogram
- Although there are risks, the benefits far outweigh them
Medicare and Mammograms
Although it is often the case that there are many ways in which Medicare skims over healthcare coverage, almost surprisingly, Medicare does its job to help cover breast health costs. Under their coverage, women over the age of forty are eligible to receive a mammogram screening every twelve months. Another benefit is that a doctor’s referral is not required for this coverage; this means that if you want to get a mammogram, you can do so even without having to go to your doctor to get a referral. Since there are digital mammogram options now available, Medicare extends their coverage to include those as well. Be sure to ask your doctor abut the options available to ensure that you get the best possible care and the most thorough exam available.
Types of Mammograms
Over the years, mammogram technology has progressed tremendously to include digital and computer aided screenings. While X-rays are the oldest forms of medical imaging, these advanced processes continue to allow doctors to better detect potential problem areas in the breasts. Digital mammography uses a process that converts the x-rays into electrical signals. These signals create images of the breasts that can be viewed on a screen and later be printed onto special film. Computer-aided mammography, on the other hand, creates a digital image. A computer program scans this image for abnormal or irregular masses or calcifications and then alerts the technician to possible problem areas.
Preparing for a Mammogram
Indeed no one is ever really ready for the discomfort and vulnerability that a mammogram causes. There is a lot you can do, however, to prepare for a mammogram that will help the whole process be less uncomfortable. By scheduling the appointment for when your breasts are typically the least tender, you can avoid additional discomfort. The pressure of the machine causes this discomfort as it squeezes your breasts to produce the best possible image. Taking ibuprofen or some other brand of pain reliever beforehand will also help alleviate pain you are likely to experience. If you have had mammograms in the past and are going to a new facility, it is advisable to bring any old records and prior images with you – or have them sent to the new office ahead of your scheduled mammogram – as this will help your technician and doctor give you the best possible care. Finally, be sure to wear a top that can be easily removed and put back on, as you will need to do so for the test.
Mammogram Risks and Benefits
With any medical procedure, the question on everyone’s mind is what the possible risks are, as well as what the benefits may be. One of the main risks of a mammogram is the fact that they cannot be one hundred percent accurate. False alarms (normal tissue that for some reason indicates an abnormality exists) and erroneous results (such as normal breast tissue hiding an existing hazard) do happen, even though technicians are highly trained and the equipment is advanced. Additionally, there is a small amount of exposure to radiation, as with any X-ray, but the risks are very minimal. Conversely, the positives do indeed outweigh the negatives of a mammogram screening. This includes the potential for early diagnosis of harmful diseases like cancer. Additionally, mammograms are typically very fast procedures, often taking no more than twenty minutes from beginning to end.
A Little Note About Self-Exams
If you aren’t already doing self breast exams, do start. If you are still menstruating, do it either before or just after your period is over. In the shower or lying down is best. Just raise one arm to flatten out your breast and with the free hand begin palpating around the entire breast. Do the same to the other breast. If you feel anything unusual, by all means schedule a doctor’s appointment. And this is probably the only time in an article where it is highly appropriate to say, “Ladies, once monthly, feel your boobies!”
Ultimately, having a mammogram is one of the best things we as women can do to be proactive about our health. Early detection is key to preventing and treating myriad diseases, including cancer, so the more regularly you can have your breasts screened, the better. Even though it can be uncomfortable to have an awkward and sometimes painful procedure such as this, there is no limit to the benefits it can afford you, and good health is worth more than anything – both to you and to those you love.