Early detection of breast cancer saves lives

By Regence
October 12, 2022

Schedule a mammogram for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Many people skipped routine preventive care during the pandemic. People avoided doctor's appointments, immunizations and screenings. Katie Couric, a former news anchor and author, was one of these people. When her doctor reminded her this summer that she was six months overdue for her annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer, Couric was surprised because she has a family history of cancer and takes routine tests extremely seriously. But, like many others, the pandemic made it difficult to keep track of time, and she was due for her mammogram.

Couric planned to film herself getting a mammogram to inspire others who may have forgotten or postponed their screening. Unfortunately, the outcome of that day was not a video reminding others to get screened for breast cancer; it was a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, Couric’s was detected early and responded well to treatment. She has completed her treatment, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and she is now speaking out about the importance of breast cancer screening and how early detection can save lives.

Risk of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. It can occur at any age, but the risk increases as you age. According to the American Cancer Society, women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their life.

Some risk factors for breast cancer, such as being a woman, getting older, and carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, are beyond our control. The risk factors that are more under our control include alcohol consumption, physical activity, and limiting certain hormone therapy. Breast cancer is not limited to women; it can affect men and non-binary people as well.

Importance of screening for breast cancer

Many people who develop breast cancer have no symptoms at first, which is why regular breast cancer screening is critical. A mammogram is the most effective method for detecting the presence of breast cancer. Some organizations advise starting regular mammograms at the age of 40, while others advise waiting until the age of 50. Check with your doctor and your health plan to see what is right for you.

Finding breast cancer early is key to improved outcomes and long-term survival, and mammograms can detect cancer before it’s large enough to be found by a self-exam. Most people can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early, before it has a chance to spread.

Despite the fact that mammograms are effective and can save lives, people avoid getting screened for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to fear and the desire to avoid potential bad news. Mammograms have a bad reputation for being awkward and uncomfortable, but that discomfort is outweighed by the benefit of catching cancer early so treatment can be more effective.

Some people assume they are not at risk of developing breast cancer since no one in their family has had breast cancer, although only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are hereditary. Regardless of family history, annual mammograms are encouraged. Some people are concerned about the cost of a mammogram. Check with your health plan because many preventive screenings are 100 percent covered by insurance plans like Regence.

How to get screened for breast cancer

The first step is to understand the importance of getting screened. The next step is to schedule and prepare for your appointment. Make an appointment for your mammogram at a location that accepts your insurance. Check with your insurance carrier to choose the best place. Make it an outing by inviting friends and family to be screened with you.

Regence Executive Medical Director Dr. Donna Milavetz has some tips for people preparing for their mammogram:

  • On the day of your appointment, take an over-the-counter pain reliever 45 to 60 minutes before your mammogram to reduce discomfort during the procedure
  • Schedule your mammogram 1 to 2 weeks after your monthly period usually starts so that your breast tissue is less swollen and sensitive
  • Remember that mammographers are trained professionals who want you to be comfortable. You can ask the mammography technician to use a slow, gradual compression so the experience is less jarring and communicate with them during the process if you become really uncomfortable.
  • Be brave, don't delay and schedule your screening today.

We’re here to help

Most Regence health plans cover annual in-network preventive mammograms at 100 percent. October is a great time to schedule your next mammogram because it is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Regence members can sign in to their account online at regence.com to learn more about their preventive care benefits and search for an in-network screening location near them.