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What you need to know about mammograms


By Virginia Kakacek, MD
October 4, 2018

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There’s lots of talk about mammograms lately, including how often to get them and whether they’re really effective. Here are answers to some of the most common questions I get from members and patients.

Who should get a mammogram?

Women should get their first mammogram no later than age 50, and every 1-2 years after that. While this is the general recommendation, it’s always best to ask your doctor what’s right for you. Some women may benefit from starting mammograms at age 40 depending on certain risk factors.

Keeping up with your mammograms is very important, regardless of your history – in fact, more than 80 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

Are mammograms effective?

Mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early when it’s more treatable. They can detect lumps that are too small for you or your doctor to feel, and before any other symptoms develop. Because mammograms can detect cancer early, women who get them regularly are less likely to need surgery and other aggressive treatments like chemotherapy.

Like any screening, mammograms have limitations. Some women need more tests following a mammogram. In some cases, women have been diagnosed with cancers that would not have caused any problems for them – leading to unnecessary anxiety. I encourage my patients to be knowledgeable about these drawbacks while remembering that mammograms are still the best tool we have to find breast cancer early.

Are mammograms safe?

Yes. Although mammograms use X-rays and expose the breasts to small amounts of radiation, the risk of harm is extremely low.

What can I expect at my first mammogram?

Feeling some anxiety before your first mammogram is completely normal. Check out this article to learn what to expect at your screening, and get tips on how to ease any pain or discomfort you’re worried about.

What if I don’t have time for a mammogram?

Many clinics now offer walk-in mammograms to accommodate their patients’ busy schedules. HealthPartners, for example, has 14 screening locations across the Twin Cities – and all of them offer walk-in mammograms. Learn more here.

What does a mammogram cost?

Most health insurance plans will cover your mammogram 100 percent, so there’s no cost to you. Always check with your health insurance company first to make sure your mammogram is covered.

HealthPartners members: Check your coverage here! Or, call the phone number on the back of your member ID card.

What’s a 3D mammogram, and is it covered by insurance?

Your doctor may recommend a 3D mammogram if you have dense breast tissue. This screening uses a highly advanced imaging tool that looks through millimeter slices of breast tissue instead of the whole breast at once. Your doctor gets a three-dimensional picture that helps them more accurately detect any abnormalities. Many health insurance plans cover 3D mammography, including many HealthPartners plans. It’s always smart to check with your health insurance company before your screening.

Time to schedule your mammogram? Make an appointment with one of our experts:

Virginia Kakacek, MD

Dr. Kakacek is an Associate Medical Director with the HealthPartners Medical Group and a Family Practice physician in the Park Nicollet Clinic systems and Methodist Hospital. She’s also an instructor in the University of Minnesota residency program at Methodist. Dr. Kakacek enjoys getting to work with talented and passionate people across HealthPartners health insurance plan and its hospitals and clinics. When not at work Dr. Kakacek enjoys reading, spending time with her family and enjoying the great outdoors.

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