When it comes to breast cancer detection, it’s clear that regular mammograms help find cancer earlier and in its most treatable stages. In fact, we know that routine screening reduces breast cancer risk of dying by at least 15 percent. Although we agree they are important, different radiological and imaging societies offer a range of recommendations regarding the timeline and frequency for mammograms.
As fellowship trained breast surgeons, my colleagues and I follow the mammography recommendations from the American Society of Breast Surgeons, an organization that’s committed to improving the practice of breast surgery and advocating for excellence in caring for breast patients. Their recommendations state that women of average risk should begin screening mammograms at age 40 and continue them annually if their life expectancy is 10 years or greater.
Why is a yearly mammogram so important? From year to year, things can and do change within a woman’s breast tissue. Although waiting for two years may not be an issue if you develop a slow growing tumor, those with faster growing types of breast cancer may need more extensive treatment to their breast cancer. The earlier we can find a breast abnormality, the better.
There are two main types of mammograms, which is an x-ray of the breast. Traditional mammography is two dimensional. CHI Memorial’s MaryEllen Locher Breast Center offers the latest technology – 3D mammography with tomosynthesis – which creates a three-dimensional model of the breast by fusing tother several images into one. Seeing the breast from different angles helps radiologists see abnormalities more clearly.
When an abnormality or area of concern is identified on a screening mammogram, women are called back for a diagnostic mammogram, which typically includes more compression and more images of the breast. It’s important to note that 3D mammograms have also been shown to reduce the number of women who get called back for a rechecks, reducing the anxiety and worry that comes with a diagnostic mammogram. If after the diagnostic mammogram there is still an area of concern, women are referred to a breast surgeon and may need a biopsy.
Women at higher risk for breast cancer should also follow these recommendations but may require the addition of a breast MRI or ultrasound to their screening. These additional imaging methods do not produce extra radiation, nor does the 3D mammography confer any significant levels of radiation over that of a 2D mammogram. Mammograms are a safe, effective way to identify breast cancer in its earliest stages when treatment is less invasive and most effective.
Yearly mammograms are typically covered by insurance. CHI Memorial’s MaryEllen Locher Breast Center also offers programs for the uninsured or the underinsured to provide for their mammogram. To schedule an appointment, call (423) 495-4040.