Encouraging Loved Ones to Get Mammograms

Face it: no likes being told what to do, especially your relatives. Your aunt already thinks she's smarter than everyone else; your mom is far more used to dispensing unwanted life advice than receiving it; and your daughter never listened to you in the first place. But unless you can get through to them, and get them to go through with getting a mammogram, they may be dealing with bigger problems down the road. It's an uncomfortable conversation that could save their life.

It's not going to be an easy, one-time discussion. It's going to be annoying to them, frustrating to you and, above all, awkward. These are a person's "privates" you're broaching. So before starting the conversation, recognize the barriers keeping them from walking through the radiologist's door. This will not only offer you ammunition to debunk whatever obstacles – real or imagined – they throw out; it will also help you understand what they are going through emotionally.

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Reasons Women Avoid Mammograms

Time, cost, inconvenience, pain, and simply not wanting to know are all reasons cited by studies as to why women avoid mammograms.

Lack of time – This is often a misconception. Usually, it's less than an hour from the moment a patient walks in to when she walks out, and the actual procedure takes just 3 to 5 minutes.

Cost – Forty percent of women wrongly assume that their insurance does not cover mammograms. Rather, most states have regulations that require insurers to cover the tests, and there are several public and private programs that cover screening costs for uninsured women.


Susan Weinberg MD, founder and co-director of the Mary Jo Cropper Family Center for Breast Care at Bethesda North Hospital, discusses how to do what's best for your breasts.

Inconvenience – Address this by offering to take over the mundane aspects of scheduling: make the appointment, arrange transportation, and even accompany her if that helps motivate her to go through with the test.

Pain – Though this is a legitimate concern, experts point to the briefness of the actual test as one way to allay concern over the discomfort.

Ignorance is Bliss – This is the trickiest excuse to tackle. Many women simply "don't want to know." Emphasize the lousy odds: one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Ignorance may be bliss now, but it's a lot more painful to both them and their loved ones later.

Tactics and Techniques for Helping

Here are some tactics for breaking the ice and getting your loved ones to schedule – and keep – their mammogram appointments:

The Buddy System

Chances are you don't have the same OB-GYN as your mother, sister, or best friend. If you do, offer to schedule your tests in succession. If not, set them for the same day so you can meet after and commiserate about how annoying the process is. Sweeten the incentive with your favorite dessert or a glass of wine.

Conspire with Her Doctor

Studies find that physicians who directly encourage mammograms increase patients' chances of completing care: 15% of patients who received intervention letters from their doctors' offices went ahead with screening.

Shamelessly Pull on Their Heart Strings

Because you're here at the TriHealth Cancer Institute, you or someone you know has most likely been impacted by cancer. So don't hesitate to pull out the emotional big guns: implore that you don't want to see them go through the same ordeal you went through – their decision to avoid the radiologist not only impacts their lives, but the lives of everyone who cares about them.

Breaking the Ice

Here are few conversation starters. They may make you cringe, but they also just might give you ideas on breaking the ice:

Displacement – "Did you hear Molly's mom just had a lump removed from her breast? Her doc caught it at her annual mammogram – she's going to be fine."

End-Around – "I have a spa day tomorrow! Doctor's appointment in the morning, then a massage, then my nails! ...How do you treat yourself when you get a mammogram?”

Flattery – "With all the studies out nowadays, I can't believe women are still missing their annual mammograms. But I know you're smarter than that, right?"

Head-On – "So when was the last time you had a mammogram, Mom?"
"That's none of your business!"
"Well, I thought it'd be easier to ask you now, before my brothers and I are dividing up your stuff."

Lastly, feel free to have a little fun with the process if you think you'll get through to people. Wear a chauffeur's hat and gloves when accompanying someone to the radiology center. Mail them a letter "from their breasts" pleading for a test. Do whatever it takes to break the tension and ease the moment.

Because after all, you're never too busy to get cancer.

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