Mammography - the best method for early detection
By: Victoria Heren, M.D.
October is breast cancer awareness month. It’s a time to pull together and do all that we can in the battle against the disease that is the second most common cancer in women (the first is melanoma). The lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer is nearly one in eight (about 13 percent).
The best way to fight breast cancer is to detect it early; and one of the best methods of early detection is with a mammogram. Research has shown that mammography can increase breast cancer survival.
The American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram for all women at age 35. This baseline mammogram gives a reference for comparison in later years. Most women should begin the practice of an annual mammogram starting at age 40.
A mammogram can detect abnormalities long before they can be felt through self-examination. Breast lumps can be identified on a mammogram up to two years before they can be felt manually.
A mammogram uses special X-ray images to detect abnormal growths or changes in breast tissue. This is done by placing the breast between two plates. The breast is compressed in order to obtain the clearest picture possible while using the least amount of radiation. Having your breast compressed between the plates is probably not the most comfortable position you’ll ever be in, but it should not be really painful or cause more than a slight amount of discomfort. And, it lasts just a few seconds and provides results that can be life-saving.
Raiter Clinic has teamed up with Community Memorial Hospital to provide patients with the newest technology when it comes to mammography services: digital imaging. Research shows that digital mammography has several advantages over traditional film mammography. The image is sharper and can be adjusted to intensify the contrast, making abnormalities and calcifications within the breast easier to see. Because there is no processing of film, appointment time is shorter.
Usually a certified mammography technician performs your mammogram. Afterward, a doctor will look at and interpret your films. The results of your mammogram will be sent to you within 30 days. If there is a problem or concern with your mammogram, you will be contacted before that (usually within a week).
According to the American Cancer Society, about 10 percent of women will require additional mammography. This could be due to a number of reasons, including a possible mass, lump, density or distortion issues. Being called in to have additional mammography does not automatically indicate breast cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that only one or two mammograms out of 1,000 result in a diagnosis of cancer.
There are some factors that put you at higher risk for breast cancer. They are: Age – risk increases as you get older. Family history – close relatives who have had breast cancer can put you at higher risk. Having your first child after age 35, or never having children increases risk. Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55) indicate increased risk. Excess weight, especially around your waist, increases risk. Alcohol use – more than two drinks daily ups your risk factor. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can increase risk.
Risk factors or not, breast cancer is an undiscriminating disease. Every woman (and man) is at risk for breast cancer. In fact, 75 percent of women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors.
That is why it is important to follow guidelines and recommendations from your physician regarding mammograms. Mammography is quite accurate – between 85 to 90 percent – and it is one of your best defenses against breast cancer. It can detect the disease in its earliest stages and help you get on the road to treatment and recovery.
If you’ve been thinking about scheduling a mammogram, but have put it off, don’t wait another day. The best protection is early detection and when it comes to breast cancer, the mammogram is simply the best method of early detection that we have.
Dr. Heren is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.