Q. I am trying to get my sister to come in for a mammogram, but she said she is afraid of the radiation.
A. I don’t think she should be – and let me explain it from a variety of directions. First, regardless of whether your sister ever gets a mammogram, her risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 8. Not the best odds, but we have proven scientifically that if we catch breast cancer early, we can likely save a life. Yet, if your sister never gets a mammogram, she will not avail herself of this early detection opportunity.
Next, let’s consider she does get routine mammograms. The chance of getting a radiation induced breast cancer is not zero, but it is extremely low. It has been equated to the chances of dying in a car wreck if you take a 300-mile road trip, which is hundreds of thousands of times better than 1 in 8.
So even if your sister, on the very odd chance, gets a radiation induced breast cancer, the benefit of getting yearly mammograms to detect that cancer early, and likely save her life, is way better than the odds she has of never getting a mammogram and still getting breast cancer, but not receiving the benefit of early detection.
Remember, friends don’t let friends skip mammograms.
Michael J. Ulissey, M.D., is a partner at the Breast Diagnostic Centers of Auburn and Federal Way. In addition to taking care of patients locally, he continues to participate in research as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center.