Keeping good health is so important — without it, it’s difficult to find peace and happiness, and even harder to be a faithful servant to God and to your family and community. While it is true that we should trust in God to provide all things and to guide according to His will, it’s also necessary that we take responsibility for our own choices, especially choices that concern our well-being.

What Age Are Mammograms Recommended?

As reported by the 2011-2012 American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Breast Cancer Facts and Figures, breast cancer occurs in women most often between the ages of 40 and 80, and 95 percent of new cases occurred in women 40 years of age and older. Over the course of the time period between 2004−2008, ACS reports “50 percent of women who developed breast cancer were 61 years of age or younger at the time of diagnosis.” 

The ACS recommends women have a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20, and an annual mammogram beginning at age 40. Women that have a history of breast cancer in their families should begin receiving mammograms even earlier, at the age of 30, according to an ACS expert panel in 2007. 

Why Are Yearly Mammograms Important in Early Breast Cancer Detection?

A high-quality mammogram, done in conjunction with a clinical breast exam performed by a doctor, is the most reliable way to detect breast cancer early. Because breasts are continually changing due to age, pregnancy or other hormones, and even menstrual cycles, a yearly mammogram helps doctors keep track of changes in shape and size. 

These exams also help doctors find microcalcifications — that is, tiny clumps of calcium—that may indicate breast cancer is present. Most microcalcifications are benign, but only a doctor can tell you for sure. All women are encouraged to do breast self-exams at home to check for lumps or other changes, such as pain, thickened skin or nipple discharge.

If you do find a lump, you should inform your doctor as soon as possible, but a breast self-exam should never take the place of a yearly mammogram and clinical breast exam. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, microcalficifications can be detected by a mammogram up to two years before you would ever feel the lump form in your breast, and the sooner breast cancer is detected, the greater the chance of successful treatment. 

How Safe are Mammograms?

Mammograms expose the patient to very low doses of radiation, however the MayoClinic reports that “the benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks posed by this amount of radiation.” Additionally, the FDA has declared such a low dose of radiation as safe

How Effective are Mammograms?

According to MayoClinic, mammograms can result in a false positive or a false negative, and the accuracy of the procedure is partly dependent on the radiologist’s experience and skill with the procedure, as well as the technique that is used. The procedure is also more effective on older women, as the fattier breast tissue that develops with age makes it easier to detect and interpret changes.

Lastly, not all cancers can be detected by screening mammography, according to MayoClinic. “A cancer may be too small or may be in an area that is difficult to view by mammography, such as your armpit. Mammograms can miss one in five cancers in women.”

What Are Alternatives to Mammography?

If you are concerned about radiation exposure or the possibility of false positives, another type of exam is becoming more widespread. It’s called high-resolution digital infrared thermal imaging (DITI).

According to a study published in The American Journal of Surgery, members of the Dept. of Surgery at NY Presbyterian Hospital — Cornell concluded that a “DITI is a valuable adjunct to mammography and ultrasound, especially in women with dense breast parenchyma (cells that make up the milk ducts and glands in the breast).”

To find a health provider that can give you a DITI screening, enter the word “thermography” along with your zip code into any search engine, such as Google.

Consult Your Doctor

As always, the most important thing to do when making important decisions concerning your health is to consult your doctor. Talk to him or her about whether or not there is a history of breast cancer in your family, what age would be best for you to begin having exams and whether a mammogram or DITI is right for you. Definitely do plenty of self-education by reading articles from reliable sources, but remember that it’s no substitute for a trained health care professional. 

Our physical bodies are a gift from God, so let’s treat them right! Remember Paul’s words to the Romans: 

Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. —Romans 12:1

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