A screening mammogram can save your life

Monday, October 14, 2013

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, drawing attention to a cancer that is often treatable if it is caught in its early stages. However, breast cancer can be a killer if it goes undetected. The American Cancer Society states that 40,000 people die each year from breast cancer.

There are two types of breast cancer: carcinoma in situ (CIS), and invasive breast cancer. CIS is an early stage cancer of the breast and is detectable and treatable following a routine screening mammogram. Invasive breast cancer is a later stage cancer and affects one in eight women during their life.

The incidents of invasive breast cancer and death have been dropping in the United States thanks in large part to early detection through routine screening mammograms paired with advances in treatment.

"Women over the age of 40 should have a screening mammogram once a year, and should do self examinations more frequently," said Marla Robbins, lead mammographer at Fitzgibbon Hospital. "Having a screening mammogram only takes about 20 minutes, but that 20-minute test can save your life."

Early mammography used X-ray film and often took many weeks before results were available. Sometimes the quality of those films led to a woman having to have another mammogram. With the digital mammography machine at Fitzgibbon Hospital, the technologist knows right away if the image is suitable for reading by the Radiologist. This leads to greater convenience and faster results for the patient.

Mammography is scheduled the week after a woman's menstrual cycle, because the breasts will be less swollen and more comfortable. This timing will also allow for a better image. During a mammography, the technologist will compress each breast to take an x-ray. The technologist is able to immediately see if the image needs to be retaken.

With the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans now pay for an annual screening mammogram after the age of 40. Screening mammograms allow for the early detection of breast cancer. However, once a lump or symptom of breast cancer has been discovered, either by a physician, screening mammography or self-examination the mammogram is "reclassified" as a diagnostic mammogram. Insurance coverage for that classification of mammogram varies.

Diagnostic mammograms are used to drill down and look at lumps or irregularities that might have been discovered during a physical examination or screening mammogram. This diagnostic mammogram can be helpful to a surgeon to discover the location and size of a detected lump prior to performing a lumpectomy or biopsy.

"Many women think they don't need to have a mammogram because they don't have any family history with it. But eight in 10 women who get breast cancer do not have any family history with breast cancer," said Robbins.

To schedule your digital screening mammogram, call 660-831-3208. If your physician has already written an order, please bring it with you to your appointment. Otherwise, our scheduling staff will contact your physician on your behalf.

What to expect: Be prepared to answer history questions, and bring any information about past mammograms with you. Do not wear deodorant, lotion or powder to your mammogram appointment. Wear two-piece clothing, because only the top will be removed for your mammogram. The entire procedure lasts just 20 minutes.