Friends Don’t Let Friends Skip Their Mammograms

I am writing this to remind all of you about the importance of breast cancer screening. You can bet I am going to get the recommended mammograms on time.

Karen Chaprnka and her family

This blog post was guest written by Karen Chaprnka, Allegiance Health's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

I used to have a false sense of confidence when I went for my annual mammogram. I would fill out my paperwork and write in the word “no” after the line that asked “Do you have a family history of breast cancer.” I thought the fact that there was no breast cancer in my family gave me a little added protection. If missed my annual mammogram by a few months, it was no big deal.

Last year, everything changed. With my breast cancer diagnosis, I lost my sense of invulnerability. From that day forward, my daughter would never be able to answer “no” to that  pre-mammogram question. She now has a family history of breast cancer.

Fortunately for me, my breast cancer diagnosis was a very early one. I was at stage one and could be treated with a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy. I am now cancer-free.

But that might not have been true if I hadn’t kept up with my annual mammograms. While there is some disagreement regarding the frequency of breast cancer screening, the American Cancer Society recommends an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam for all healthy women 40 and older. It also recommends clinical breast exams for women in their 20s and 30s, preferably every three years with their regular physical exam.

I had gone for my annual mammogram about seven months prior to my cancer diagnosis. At that time, a suspicious area was flagged, but a biopsy determined that it wasn’t cancer.  At my follow-up mammogram, another suspicious area showed  up in a different location, and that turned out to be cancer.

That cancerous tumor had not been visible on my annual mammogram just seven months earlier, which means it developed very quickly. If I hadn’t gone for my regular mammogram or the follow-up, it might have been a different story for me.

Because of my experience, I can’t imagine skipping an annual mammogram. No woman enjoys going for her mammogram. They can be uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing—but I believe they are well worth the minimal inconvenience. I know they save lives.

I am writing this to remind all of you about the importance of breast cancer screening. You can bet I am going to get the recommended mammograms on time, and I encourage my women friends, family members and co-workers to get theirs as well. Early detection still provides our best defense against cancer. We all need to take the time to take care of ourselves.

Remember that a family history of breast cancer is a risk factor, but it isn’t the only one. You can determine your own breast cancer risk factors by taking a free Health Risk Assessment.

There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer. But you may help lower your risk by maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting how much alcohol you drink and getting regular exercise.