HealthONE - October 15, 2021

This breast cancer awareness month, fellowship-trained breast surgeon Laura Hafertepen, DO, dispels common concerns women have about mammograms.

Turning 40 this year? Most women know that this birthday milestone comes the recommendation to begin annual mammograms. Among the most well-known of cancer screenings, mammograms are proven effective – as high as 80 to 98 percent—in detecting breast cancer in women with non-dense breast tissue. While annual mammograms have been folded into the fabric of female healthcare recommendations since the mid-1980s, many women dread beginning the annual rite.

“Anxiety and apprehension around mammograms may be due, in part, to misinformation,” explains Laura Hafertepen, DO, a fellowship-trained breast surgeon at Swedish Medical Center. “The fear of the unknown and the private nature of this part of the body can make women uncomfortable. However, this screening is vitally important, so we work hard to make it as comfortable, convenient and painless as possible.” This breast cancer awareness month, Dr. Hafertepen is helping women by busting some common mammogram myths.

Myth 1: I don’t have family history of breast cancer, so I don’t need annual mammograms

While it’s true that family history increases your risk for developing breast cancer, those without family history are not off the hook. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than 80% of breast cancers are found in women with no family history of the disease. That means all women should begin screenings at age 40.  However, women with family history should take special consideration. “Women with family history of breast cancer should be talking to their providers as early as possible about a plan for screening and proactive care,” Dr. Hafertepen explains.

Myth 2: Mammograms are very painful

One of the most common concerns women share about mammograms is that they are extremely painful. “We are always looking for ways to make mammograms more comfortable. It’s true that you will feel some pressure and discomfort when your breast is compressed to get the best images,” Dr. Hafertepen reveals. “However, the discomfort is minimal and very brief. Most screening locations are designed to be serene and calming to help women feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.”

Myth 3: I can get a mammogram when pregnant or breastfeeding

As more women continue childbearing past age 40, pregnancy and breastfeeding must be considered when scheduling the annual mammogram. It’s best to discuss the risks and benefits of the screening with your OB/GYN. While the amount of radiation in a mammogram is low, it may affect the unborn baby during pregnancy. Breastfeeding may complicate the screening exam as it makes the breasts more dense. Detection, in turn, may be more difficult “Talk with your OB/GYN and, if a mammogram is recommended, be sure to let your technician know that you are pregnant or breastfeeding,” Dr. Hafertepen explains.

Myth 4: I cannot get a mammogram if I have breast implants

“Some women believe that they cannot get a mammogram after receiving breast implants—others may believe they can no longer get breast cancer after receiving breast implants. Neither is true,” Dr. Hafertepen cautions. Mammograms are considered an important screening tool for women with breast implants. Be sure to let your technician know that you have breast implants as adjustments may need to be made to ensure the highest quality images are captured.

Myth 5: If something suspicious is found, it doesn’t matter what doctor I see for follow up

“It is always frightening to be told something has been found on your screening exam. But do your best not to panic,” Dr. Hafertepen reassures. “Seek out providers who have specific experience with breast cancer and reading breast imaging.” Providers who have undergone advanced training in breast cancer and breast health specifically have a high level of understanding and experience with conditions of the breast. By going to fellowship-trained specialists, you can rest assured that your provider is up to date on the specifics about your condition and how best to care for you.

“We have learned so much about breast health, detecting breast cancer and treating breast cancer during the last few decades,” Dr. Hafertepen encourages. “Because of the excellent screening tools we have available, we are able to detect cancers at the earliest and most treatable stage. We urge women to take these screenings seriously… and we are here for you when you need us!”

Visit us online to learn more about mammograms and schedule an appointment.

Dr. Laura Hafertepen was born and raised in Southern California. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego with cum laude honors then attended medical school at Western University College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific near her family in the Los Angeles area. Dr. Hafertepen completed general surgery internship and residency at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Fresno program. During residency, she found that her passion was treating diseases of the breast and completed a Surgical Society of Oncology breast surgery fellowship in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Hafertepen is board certified by the American Board of Surgery and practices breast surgery. Her special interests include prevention and treatment of hereditary breast cancer, nipple sparing mastectomy, oncoplastic and minimally invasive breast surgery.