Talk with your doctor about breast and cervical cancer screenings and what’s right for you
With regular screenings and follow-up care, breast and cervical cancer cancers can be stopped before they start or found early when treatment works best. Getting screened regularly is important because women who are not screened or have not been screened in a long time could have cancer and not know it.
Did you know breast and cervical cancer screenings are now covered by all types of insurance with no co-pay? Getting screened is as easy as talking to your doctor and making an appointment. One simple conversation could save your life.
What to say when you talk to your doctor
Before you get a breast or cervical cancer screening, you may want to ask your doctor the following questions:
- What are my risks of getting breast/cervical cancer?
- How often should I be screened?
- What will happen during the screening test?
- How long will it take?
- When and how will I learn about the results?
- When will I need to have my next screening?
Getting screened for Breast Cancer
A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray of the breast. Doctors use mammograms to look for early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best test doctors have to find breast cancer early. Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.
What to expect from a mammogram
During a mammogram, you will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A doctor will place your breast on a clear plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. Having a mammogram is a bit uncomfortable for most women. Some women even find it painful, especially if their breasts are sensitive. But, it only takes only a few moments, and then the discomfort is over.
When to get screened
How often you get screened for breast cancer depends on many factors, including your age, your family history, and your screening history. All women ages 50 to 74 should have mammograms every 2 years. Some women might start mammograms earlier or have mammograms more frequently. Ask your doctor when and how often you should get screened and make your appointment!
Getting screened for Cervical Cancer
A Pap test (also called a Pap smear) checks for changes in the cells of your cervix that could turn into cancer over time. The Pap test can find these cells early when treatment works best.
What to expect from a Pap test
During a Pap test, you will be asked to lie on your back with your feet in stirrups. The doctor will use a plastic or metal instrument, called a speculum, to widen the vagina. This helps the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. The cells will then be placed on a slide or in a bottle of liquid and sent to a laboratory. The laboratory will check to be sure that the cells are normal.
When to get screened
All women ages 21 to 65 should get screened for cervical cancer. Women who may no longer be having sex or who may feel too old to have a child should still have regular Pap tests. Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not been screened with the Pap test in more than five years or have never been screened at all. How often you get screened for cervical cancer depends on many factors, including your age, your screening history, and your sexual activity. Talk with your doctor about when and how often you should get screened. Your doctor might be able to do a Pap test during a regular appointment, or you might have to schedule one.
Can I get screened if I don't have insurance?
Yes. Free breast and cervical cancer screening is available for eligible, uninsured Massachusetts residents through the Department of Public Health Care Coordination Program. To get more information or to be connected to a Care Coordination Program clinical site near you, please call 1-877-414-4447.
Information about breast cancer screening, symptoms and treatment:
- CDC - www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/index.htm
- American Cancer Society - www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/index
Information about cervical cancer screening, symptoms and treatment:
- CDC - www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical
- American Cancer Society - www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/index
Search for licensed mammography facilities: www.massmammography.org
Resources for Providers
- United States Preventive Services Task Force cancer screening guidelines: www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Index?s=cancer
- Massachusetts Health Quality Partnership Adult Preventive Care Recommendations: www.staging.mhqp.org/products_and_tools/?content_item_id=169
This information is provided by the Department of Public Health.