Wearing pink to raise awareness about breast cancer is simple—on the other hand, encouraging your mom or grandmother to schedule her yearly exam is sometimes easier said than done.
It’s understandable. Mammograms are always uncomfortable and at times, even painful. They take a bite out of one’s schedule and require a trip to the doctor. And let’s face it—everyone has the fear of being on the receiving end of that phone call.
If your loved one needs the motivation to schedule her screening, here are five reasons why waiting isn’t worth the risk to her health in the long run:
- Mammograms catch lumps long before they can be felt. A mammogram screening can uncover 80 to 90 percent of cancerous and pre-cancerous lumps and tumors, even if they can’t be detected during a self-exam or an exam performed by a medical professional. When cancer is caught this early, treatment rarely requires aggressive measures such as mastectomy or chemotherapy, and the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent!
- A woman’s cancer risk increases with age. More than half of all breast cancer cases are associated with women age 60 and older, and another 20 percent occur in women over 70. Once someone hits 80, their risk begins to decrease. The American Cancer Society recommends women between the ages of 45-54 get a screening every year, and those 54 and older every other year or yearly depending on their physician’s guidelines. The Canadian Cancer Society suggests women have a mammogram every two years starting at age 50.
- Certain risk factors make mammograms a must-do. Those women who have a family history of breast cancer, possess the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or have had radiation therapy to the chest are at the greatest risk for breast cancer. In addition, controllable factors, like smoking, poor diet, alcohol consumption, and excess weight, can all threaten a woman’s breast health as well.
- The survival rate for women over age 65 has improved significantly. Even though the chance of a diagnosis grows along with age, the chance of dying from it continues to decrease thanks to advancements in detection and treatment. Today, women over age 50 with invasive breast cancer have an 83 percent ten-year breast cancer survival rate, and their treatment comes with far fewer side effects than it did in the past.
- You may not have to pay a dime for your screening. In Canada, any woman age 50 to 74 can get a mammogram without a physician referral through their provincial screening program. In the U.S., yearly mammograms for women age 65 and older are covered by Medicare—younger women with no insurance or whose insurance does not cover screenings can apply for a free or low-cost screening through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) in their state.
The best way to get your loved one to the doctor is to be there for her. Drive her to her exam (or, better yet, if you’re due for a mammogram, schedule one together!), treat her to lunch or a special treat afterward, and most importantly, talk with her about her concerns. Just a few kind words from you may be all she needs to take greater control of her health!