Early detection could save many of the lives lost to breast cancer each year. By increasing the number of cancers detected in the earliest and most curable stage, the lives of 400 Illinois women could be saved each year. There are three methods of early detection that all women should practice: monthly breast self-examinations, annual clinical breast examinations by a health care professional and regular mammograms.

What is a breast self-examination?

Beginning at age 20, women should check their own breasts monthly. If you know how your breasts look and feel normally, you will be able to detect small changes early. Younger women should do breast self-exams five to 10 days after the first day of their periods. If a woman is taking birth control pills, she should do the exam on the first day of her pill pack each month.

Monthly breast self-exams are important for pregnant women and those who have passed menopause, too. These women should do an exam on the same day each month. Menopausal women who are taking hormones should check with their health care professional about the best time for self-exams.

If I practice monthly self-exams, why should I have clinical breast examinations?

Health care professionals may be able to detect small lumps before you do. Therefore it is important that you be examined by your health care professional at least once a year.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a special breast X-ray that can reveal the presence of a developing breast tumor before it is large enough to be felt by you or even a highly skilled health care professional.

What is it like to have a mammogram? Is it painful?

When you have a mammogram, you stand next to an X-ray machine and a technologist helps place your breast on a plastic tray. Another tray is lowered onto the top of your breast and, for a few seconds, pressure is applied to flatten the breast while the X-ray is taken. The compression lasts only for a few seconds. Usually, two views of the breast are taken. While some women say the mammogram is uncomfortable, the majority report little discomfort.

When should I have a mammogram?

While there has been some public confusion concerning specific screening guidelines, mammography remains the most effective means available to detect cancer in its earliest stages. The Illinois Department of Public Health supports the American Cancer Society's recommendation that a woman receive a screening mammogram every year after age 40.

Where should I go for a mammogram?

Hospitals, women's clinics and other facilities frequently offer mammography services. A woman should be sure that whatever facility she chooses is certified by the Food and Drug Administration. During October, you can find a certified facility in your area by calling the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345, Y-ME at 800-221-2141 or the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation at 800-IM AWARE.

Are mammograms safe?

Strict guidelines are in place to ensure that mammography equipment is safe and uses the lowest dose of radiation possible. In fact, a woman is exposed to more "background" radiation in her daily life than when she receives her annual mammogram.

How will I pay for a mammogram?

If you are 65 years of age or older, Medicare will cover screening mammographies every year. As of Jan. 1, 1990, Illinois law requires policies, contracts or certificates issued by health insurers to include coverage for screening mammographies in accordance with American Cancer Society guidelines. Illinois law also requires Medicaid to cover mammography in accordance with these guidelines for eligible women 35 years of age and older. Low-income women who are uninsured or under insured may qualify for free mammography services through the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program.

During October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many facilities are offering discounted screenings for breast cancer, including mammograms at reduced cost. Women should check with local facilities to see if such discounts are available.

Regardless of insurance coverage or discounted screenings, it is important for every woman 40 years of age and older to have routine mammograms.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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