Q: Is it safe to schedule a mammogram during the pandemic?

A: As our nation’s healthcare providers continue to advance their knowledge during the ongoing fight against COVID-19, it is crucial for individuals to stay on top of their overall health, especially continuing to get their yearly health screenings, such as mammograms.

As stated in a recent study from the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), “while residents have taken to social distancing, cancer does not pause. The delay in diagnosis will likely lead to presentation at more advanced stages and poorer clinical outcomes.” Although some patients may have fears about contracting COVID-19 while at a health facility, doctor’s offices and hospitals are taking extraordinary precautions to ensure patient safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States.

Mammograms are proven to be an effective screening measure for early detection of breast cancer. In addition to scheduling regular exams and appointments with your doctor, consider the following risk factors of breast cancer to determine if warning signs are present.

Age. Generally, the risk for breast cancer increases with age. Women over age 40 should talk with their doctor about when and how often to start scheduling mammograms.

Family history. Be mindful of your family’s history with different types of cancer. More specifically, if someone in your family has had breast or ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, too.

Breast Density. Dense breast tissue on mammography is associated with a higher risk for developing breast cancer. These higher levels of dense breast tissue also can impact the testing process making cancers more difficult to see. Consult with your doctor if you do not know if this is a factor for you.

Hormones. During menopause, some forms of hormone replacement therapy, such as taking estrogen and progesterone, can raise the risk for breast cancer, if taken for more than five years.

In addition to considering these risk factors and scheduling annual appointments, maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet, keeping a consistent exercise routine and limiting alcohol intake can aid in improving your overall health and help reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Even during this unusual time that requires additional safety measures, yearly screenings remain the cornerstone of early detection of the disease. When breast cancer is detected early, there is a better chance to achieve better clinical outcomes, and in turn, increase survival rates. If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out to your physician or specialist.

Stacy L. Krisher is a comprehensive breast care surgeon at Holy Redeemer Health System.