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Don’t delay your breast and cervical cancer screenings

GEHA | October 4, 2021

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Do you ever think to yourself, “I don’t notice symptoms?” “I can’t afford it,” “it’s not safe,” “I don’t have time” or “I’ll make my appointment next week”? Before you know it, another year has passed and you didn’t get your mammogram or Pap test.

Important things to know about a mammogram

  • It can save your life. Finding breast cancer early reduces your risk of dying from the disease by 25–30% or more. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors use to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before a lump can be felt.
  • Radiation exposure is low –less than a standard chest x-ray.
  • Don’t be afraid. Call your provider’s office, ask about their COVID safety protocols and how you can keep yourself safe during the visit.
  • The procedure takes only about 20 minutes and discomfort is minimal for most women. Don’t schedule your mammogram the week before you get your period or the week of your period because your breasts may be more tender or swollen.
  • Women between ages 40 and 49 should talk with their provider and look at their family history about when to start screening with a mammogram. If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend annual mammograms.
  • Women aged 50 and older should have a mammography screening every two years.
  • Consider 3D mammography. This newer type of screening allows doctors to see breast tissue more clearly in three dimensions, lowering the need for follow-up testing. It may also be more helpful for women with dense breast tissue.

Important things to know about cervical screenings

  • Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early when treatment can be most successful. The Pap test looks for precancerous cells on the cervix before it turns into cancer. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause cell changes.
  • Both tests are done in a doctor’s office or clinic.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends cervical cancer screening for women ages 21 to 29 every three years by Pap test.
  • For women between the ages of 30 and 65 years, the task force recommends screening every three years with a Pap test, every five years with HPV alone or every five years with a combination of HPV and Pap test.
  • Some people believe that they can stop cervical cancer screening once they have stopped having children. This is not true. They should continue to follow screening guidelines.

GEHA covers cervical screenings at no cost to you. In addition, one mammogram is covered per year for members ages 40 - 64 and one every two consecutive calendar years for members ages 65 and up. In some cases, your primary care provider or OB/GYN may need to provide a referral for the mammogram screening. If you don’t have a primary care physician, you can use our Find Care tool to find an in-network provider and/or radiology facility.

“Mammography: Benefits, Risks, What You Need to Know.”, 6 November, 2019.
“What is a Mammogram?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 September, 2020.
“What Should I Know About Screening?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 January 2021.
“The American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer.”, American Cancer Society, 22 April 2021.
“The American Cancer Society Screening Recommendations for Women at Average Breast Cancer Risk. ”, American Cancer Society, 22 April, 2021.