What You Need to Know About Mammograms

Sarah Jane Rodriguez

September 16, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Membership in an APWU Health Plan has you covered! Although the fight against the novel COVID-19 virus continues to dominate the news cycle, this is a reminder that it has never been more critical to maintain our overall good health.

One of the most important ways to achieve optimum health is to participate in annual screenings. For women age 40 and over, this includes a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast. During the procedure, your breasts are compressed between two surfaces to spread out the tissue. Your doctor examines the images to look for signs of cancer.

A 3D mammogram (breast tomosynthesis) is an imaging test that combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast. When used for breast cancer screening, 3D mammogram machines create 3D images and standard 2D mammogram images. Studies show that combining 3D mammograms with standard mammograms reduces the need for additional imaging. Both screenings are covered at 100% when using an in-network provider.

Why Should I Get a Mammogram?

Mammography can be your best defense against breast cancer because it can frequently detect the disease in its early stages, often before it can be felt during a breast exam – in some cases three years earlier (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Research has clearly shown that mammography can increase survival rates from breast cancer.

When Should I Get a Mammogram?

Many women begin mammograms at age 40 and have them every one to two years. Professional groups differ in their recommendations. The American Cancer Society advises women with an average risk to begin screening mammograms yearly at age 45 until age 54 and then continue every two years (American Cancer Society, 2020).

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women start testing every two years beginning at age 50 until age 74 (U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, 2016). However, these groups all agree that women can choose to start screening at age 40. The APWU Health Plan covers mammograms starting at age 35.

Will I Need Further Testing?

The radiologist looks for evidence of cancer or noncancerous (benign) conditions that may require further testing, follow-up, or treatment. Possible findings include:

  • Calcium deposits (calcifications) in ducts and other tissues
  • Masses or lumps
  • Asymmetric areas on the mammogram
  • Dense areas appearing in only one breast or one specific area on the mammogram
  • New dense area that has emerged since your last mammogram

If the radiologist notes areas of concern on your mammogram, further testing may include additional mammograms, known as compression or magnification views, as well as ultrasound imaging or a biopsy to remove a sample of breast tissue for laboratory testing. Some situations require diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in areas where the current imaging with mammography or ultrasound is negative, and it’s not clear what’s causing a breast change or abnormality.

Please consult your doctor to understand your options and treatment plan. If you receive a cancer diagnosis, you can access our nationwide network, including Cancer Centers of Excellence. For a complete list of providers go to https://www.apwuhp.com/our-plans/see-provider-networks/.

Breast cancer screenings

Mammograms are important for women because treatment is more likely to be successful and less costly when breast cancer is detected early. Mammograms are covered for women age 35 and older.

  • Mammograms are covered at 100% when performed in-network.
  • Routine mammograms (including 3D mammograms) are covered for women age 35 and older; as follows:
  • From age 35 through 39, one during this five-year period
  • From age 40 through 64, one every calendar year
  • At age 65 and older, one every two consecutive calendar years.

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