Even under normal circumstances, many women delay or skip the annual mammograms the American Cancer Society recommends.
The reasons vary, but the most common reasons given are that mammograms are uncomfortable, even painful, that it “won’t hurt” to skip a year or forgetfulness/procrastination.
As a nurse practitioner at the Baptist Infusion Center in Starkville, Mary Beth Rush is familiar with those reasons. But shortly after Rush arrived at the Infusion Center in January 2020, a new factor that has many women skipping their annual mammograms emerged: COVID-19.
“We don’t do mammograms here, but I do know that we’ve had fewer referrals,” Rush said. “Starting around March of that year, even family members of our staff were putting off getting mammograms at a time when everything was being shut down. The thinking was, ‘Let’s wait until further notice.’”
The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women ages 50-54 and every two years for women ages 55 and over, although other women’s health organizations say all women over 50 have annual mammograms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend women begin having regular mammograms as early as age 40, the frequency based on a chart it has developed.
Now, almost 20 months since COVID cases began turning up in the Golden Triangle, Rush said the reasons for women to have their mammograms outweighs the fear of contracting COVID-19.
Not only is a safe, effective vaccine widely available, but health care facilities have learned much about how to provide safe environments.
“Going through all this, we’ve definitely learned so much as far as safety goes,” Rush said. “To be honest, I think doctors’ offices, hospitals and clinics are about the safest places you could go. We encourage anyone who has put off getting her mammogram to get screened. It’s safe and it’s important.”
Rush said that many women have chosen to rely on self-exams as a means of detecting lumps that might be cancerous. While self-exams are recommended, the best screening method remains mammograms. New 3-D technology helps detect cancers that might go unnoticed during self-exams.
“Early detection is so important,” Rush said. “That’s especially true for some types of cancer. Like all cancers, some types of breast cancer are more aggressive than others and with these aggressive cancers, early detection means more options for treatment and better outcomes.”
Christy Wade, a mammography technician at the Imaging Center of Columbus, said the reluctance to have mammograms appears to be waning.
“We didn’t do any screening for about two months,” Wade said. “When we started back, there was some reluctance. We had patients telling us that. But as time went on, we started seeing the screenings return to what we have been seeing before.”
For those who may still be reluctant, Rush urges them to reconsider.
“I think everyone involved in treatment would say that it’s time to get that mammogram if you’ve been waiting,” Rush said. “It has been notoriously an uncomfortable process. But as uncomfortable as it may be, just remind yourself as you’re going through the process, it’s only a moment for a lifetime.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.