6 Answers About Mammograms and Breast Cancer

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What if I still want to get mammograms in my 40s or annually?

You can still get a mammogram if your doctor agrees; it's up to your insurance company to decide if it will pay for it. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said government programs would continue to offer mammograms to women 40 and older, and according to a recent New York Times article, all of the big health insurance providers (Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group) said their policies are not changing.

What should I know before I talk to my doctor about this?

Unfortunately, for most average-risk women, there's no simple answer, says Victor Vogel, MD, national vice president for research for the American Cancer Society. Because up to 80% of women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors, it's hard to figure out who should be screened in her 40s and who can skip it. That said, discuss your risk factors with your doctor, says Katz, as well as your personal preferences, risk tolerance/aversion, etc.

Bottom line

For the general population, routine mammography in women under 50 does enough harm--because of false-positive results, unnecessary procedures, and the fact that the tests don't often catch the most lethal breast cancers anyway--to outweigh the good. "But that equation is very different for an individual woman," says Katz. You and your doctor should discuss pros and cons to personalize these one-size-fits-all recommendations.

Breast Cancer FAQ

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More from Prevention:

6 Health Habits That Could Save Your Life

4 Facts You Need To Know About Your Breasts

17 Celebrities Who've Lived With Breast Cancer

4 Amazing Over-50 Makeovers

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