Wrapping Up Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Wrapping Up Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A Woman’s Guide to Mammography

Monday, October 31, 2011

As October comes to an end, so does a very important time of the year—National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Throughout the month, people across the country have worn pink ribbons, professional athletes have donned pink attire and many “pink” fundraisers and events have taken place to heighten awareness of the disease.

Despite a concentrated saturation of “pink”, breast cancer statistics remain startling: every 74 seconds a woman dies from breast cancer. Radiologists at the Archbold Women’s Center say that it’s never been more important to remind women to be proactive and schedule their regular mammograms.

Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer found in women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and the disease is expected to take the lives of 39,520 women this year alone.

So, what’s a woman to do?

Thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today. The steady decline in breast cancer death rates is believed to be the result of increased awareness and screening mammography.

As a month of breast cancer awareness events hosted by the Archbold Women’s Center wraps up, radiologists at the Center— Mary Anne Bullard, MD; John Carico, MD; Kelley S. Helquist, MD; Mark Helquist, MD; Cary Newman, MD; Gregory Roesel, MD; Seth Sherman, MD and Jacqueline Smith, MD—answered common questions that women are faced with regarding regular
mammography screening.

Q: What is a mammogram?
A: A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts that is used to detect abnormal changes. The image is recorded directly into a computer for a specially trained doctor called a radiologist to examine.

“A mammogram allows the doctor to have a closer look at changes in breast tissue that can’t be felt during a breast exam,” said Gregory Roesel, M.D. “It’s typically used to screen for breast cancer in women who have no breast complaints, as well as women who have breast symptoms, such as a change in the shape or size of a breast, a lump, discharge or pain. Studies
have shown that screening mammography can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in women ages 40 to 74. Mammography is currently the best method of screening for breast cancer.”

Q: What is the best age for a woman to start getting regular breast exams and mammograms?
A: The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that women in their 20’s and 30’s have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional preferably every three years. Starting at age 40, women should have a CBE by a health professional every year.

Breast self-examination (BSE) is also an option for women starting in their 20’s, and women should report any breast changes to their health professional right away.

Kelley Stafford Helquist, MD, recommends that women have their first mammogram (a baseline mammogram) at the age of 40 and annually thereafter based on the guidelines set by ACS. Women with first degree family history of breast cancer should begin their baseline mammogram earlier, usually 10 years earlier than the age their family member was diagnosed.

“The use of mammograms, clinical breast exams and finding and reporting breast changes early offers women the best chance to reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer,” said Helquist.

Q: Does breast cancer occur in men?
A: The American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,140 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States in 2011 and about 450 men will die from the disease. “For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000,” said Mark Helquist, MD. “Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than
among women. A breast cancer prognosis in men was once thought to be worse than that for women, but recent studies have found this to be untrue, and men and women with the same stage of breast cancer have a fairly similar outlook for survival.”

Q: Is digital mammography better than traditional (film) mammography?
A: Digital mammography offers a number of practical advantages and patient conveniences. “Because there’s no waiting for film to be developed, digital images are immediately available,” said Seth Sherman, MD. “The radiologist can evaluate the images as they’re taken. That means patients spend less time in the exam room and rarely need to return for repeat imaging due to under or over exposures. In addition, brightness, darkness, or contrast can be adjusted and sections of a digital image can be magnified after the mammogram is complete making it easier to see subtle differences between tissues.”

“Women are encouraged to choose a center that specializes in women’s imaging in order to obtain the highest quality breast images and image interpretation available to them,” said John Carico, MD.

Q: Who performs and interprets mammograms?
A: Mammography may only be performed and interpreted in the U.S. by a licensed radiologist who meets the MQSA (Mammography Quality Standards Act) minimum standards. Radiologists are physicians who are specially trained in interpretation of imaging studies.

“The experience, training and skill of the physician interpreting the mammogram is important.” said Mary Anne Bullard, MD. “The Archbold Women’s Center remains the only full-service women’s imaging center in the Thomasville area that is accredited by the American College of Radiology and the FDA. All of the radiologists at the Women’s Center are board certified, breast imaging specialists–two of which are on-site for all diagnostic mammograms. The radiologists diagnose cancer using state-of-the-art digital mammography, ultrasound and MRI.”

Q: When will my mammography results be available and how will I receive them?

A: “At the Archbold Women’s Center, women receive results of their screening mammogram via a letter sent within 24 hours of the dictated report by the radiologist,” said Jacqueline Smith, MD. “Women receive results of their diagnostic mammogram directly from the radiologist before leaving the facility and have an opportunity to ask the doctor that interpreted their image any questions. Our physicians have the equipment and capability to perform additional scans and ultrasounds when needed. Our facility also has the equipment necessary to perform stereotactic vacuum assisted core biopsies, procedures which are performed by general surgeons and localized by radiologists.”

Q: What are minimally invasive breast needle biopsies? Who performs them?
A: Imaging-guided needle biopsies, including stereotactic and ultrasound-guided mammotomy, are highly accurate alternatives to surgical biopsy of the breast for the diagnosis of abnormalities on the mammogram and ultrasound. Radiologists perform ultrasound-guided needle biopsies, while surgeons and the radiologists collaborate to perform mammography-guided needle biopsies.

“As with mammography interpretation, outcome is often dependent on the experience of the radiologist performing the procedure, said Cary Newman, MD. “Our physicians have performed thousands of these procedures, which have saved many women from being referred for a more invasive surgical procedure.”

Because mammography plays such an important role in detecting breast cancer at an early stage, often before a lump can be felt, Archbold physicians recommend that women speak with their healthcare provider about mammography recommendations. For more information on the Archbold Women’s Center, call (229) 228-3710.