Breast cancer screening is important because approximately 12% (1 out of 8) women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Statistics project that 41,760 women will die of breast cancer in the U.S. in 2019, second only to the number of deaths caused by lung cancer. The incidence of women dying from breast cancer has decreased since 1989. It is believed that this is partly due to heightened awareness, advances in medical treatment, and early detection of the disease.
Preventive care, screenings, and early treatment contribute to more positive outcomes for patients diagnosed with breast cancer. If you are eligible for Medicare, you may have access to screening and diagnostic mammograms.
Types of Mammograms
- Screening Mammograms
A screening mammogram is intended to check for breast cancer in women with no symptoms or signs of disease. The classic 2D mammography includes two images each of the left and right breast with the goal of detecting abnormalities.
- Diagnostic Mammograms
If a lump or other anomaly has been found, diagnostic x-rays are sometimes obtained to further study the area of concern. Additional x-rays are utilized, and it takes a bit longer than a routine 2D mammogram.
- 3D Mammography
Digital breast tomosynthesis (tomo) is the official name of 3D mammography. Approved by the FDA in 2011, a 3D mammogram is often used in conjunction with 2D mammography to get a more complete picture of breast tissue. How does it differ from 2D screenings? The 2D mammogram is taken by positioning the breast tissue between a comfort panel and a plate. The machine remains stationary.
When a 3D mammogram is done, an x-ray tube makes an arc-shaped movement around each breast, rapidly recording slices of images from varying angles. A computer collects the images and creates a 3D model of 1-millimeter sections for your physician to review.
The radiation level from a 3D mammogram is only slightly higher than a 2D. A 2D/3D mammogram is within the safety limits set by the FDA, and there is no documented evidence of negative effects on the breasts.
Benefits of a 3D Mammogram
A 3D mammogram can be more effective for someone at high risk for invasive breast cancer, as it detects minute changes that may signal a beginning malignancy, allowing it to be analyzed and treated earlier. The advanced technology of the 3D mammogram can achieve more effective images in very dense breast tissue or when breast implants are present.
Another significant advantage of 3D mammography is that obtaining it as a screening modality along with the 2D limits the number of patients called back in for further x-rays.
Medicare Part B Coverage for Mammograms
Some women put off getting preventive care because of insufficient insurance and inability to pay the out-of-pocket costs. For women with Medicare insurance, mammograms can usually be done for little to no out-of-pocket costs. Preventive care covered by Medicare Part B insurance includes a baseline mammogram in women 35-39 years old, screening mammograms once a year for women age 40 and over, and more than one diagnostic mammogram per year based if deemed medical necessary.
If you have Medicare coverage through Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C), you will have at least the same Part A and Part B coverage as Original Medicare, but you may have additional benefits as well.