Editor’s note: This series will be written by practitioners in Summit Medical Group (SMG) on health-related topics. This piece is by Afshan Khan, DO, a family medicine physician specializing in women’s health at Montclair Family Medicine at SMG. She focuses on preventative health care and enjoys working with patients to develop healthy lifestyle behaviors. 

Every day, I see women from all walks of life. There is one thing almost everyone has in common: her health comes second. I am a working mother, so I get it. My kids, spouse, and elderly parents’ checkups are all made before I schedule mine. But we also need to remember to take care of ourselves. 

Nearly 1 in every 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Thankfully, when the disease is caught in the early stages, it is usually treatable. I admit our screening tools are not a perfect science, but they also have saved countless lives. We just have to use them.  

It starts with a simple physical exam and mammogram. Guidelines on breast cancer screening have changed a lot, and several national expert groups have made differing recommendations as to when a first mammogram should be obtained and how often they should be performed. However, we suggest obtaining a first mammogram between the age of 40 and 50 and earlier if you have family history of breast cancer. All guidelines recommend that by age 50 all women should be getting regular breast cancer screening. 

Four years ago, I took care of a lovely well-educated woman with breast cancer in her early 60s. She was diligent about going to the doctor but for some reason a mammogram was not on her radar. Thankfully, she made a full recovery, but not everyone is that lucky. 

Like many of my patients, she wished she came in sooner. Here are some common mammogram concerns that I hear from patients and tips that will help. 

Concern #1: “I’m scared it will be painful.”  Unfortunately, mammograms can be a little uncomfortable, but there are ways to make the procedure easier. Take two Advil beforehand and apply cool compresses afterwards. It also helps if you schedule the exam in the middle of your menstrual cycle so your breasts are less tender. 

Concern #2: “It is just going to make me worry. They find things and then it turns out to be nothing.” 

Mammograms sometimes detect cysts, lesions, or dense breast tissue that turns out not to be cancerous. But remember: this is good news! You can reduce the chances of this happening by having your mammogram done at a center with highly trained radiologists that specialize in the breast. 

Concern #3: “I don’t want a biopsy!” 

If your mammogram is suspicious that does not mean you will definitely need a biopsy right away. Sometimes the procedure simply needs to be repeated. I always tell my patients if something comes up, take a deep breath, call me, and we will discuss all your options. Today, we can use ultrasounds and MRIs to take a closer look. Many times, a biopsy is not needed. 

Concern #4: “I don’t have time.” 

Making the time has never been easier. Summit Medical Group offers walk-in mammogram screenings five days a week including Saturdays at the Florham Park and Livingston locations. You do not need an appointment or a prescription from your physician. 

Concern #5: “I don’t need a mammogram. I’ll just do a self-exam every month.”

The data no longer supports self-exams, but it is still important to know your breasts. If you see an obvious lump, deformity, or nipple discharge, make an appointment right away. Please make your physical appointments every year so that a physician is monitoring you as well.

I know you have a lot to do. But if we take care of our bodies—eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and schedule routine screenings—we can have earlier detection of treatable breast cancer. 

Your internist or family physician serves as an important resource for cancer screening, monitoring your health, and coordinating your care. In many instances, patients who visit their primary care physician are more likely to undergo screenings, including mammograms and examinations. I just got my annual check-up. What about you?