Published on October 05, 2020

Mammograms are important for every woman, age 40 and older.

Mammography Facts You Need To Know

By Christine Walsh, radiologist and lead breast specialist for Genesis Health System and Radiology Group

In today’s world, we have access to a plethora of information—sometimes too much–making it difficult to decipher the facts from misinformation. The healthcare industry is no exception. In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Christine Walsh, radiologist and lead breast specialist for the Genesis Imaging Centers and Radiology Group, explains the technology and health options women have for breast cancer screening.

Why are annual mammograms important when managing your breast health?

Mammograms are important for every woman, age 40 and older. The goal of mammography is to find breast cancer before the patient notices it—so before they feel a lump or have any symptoms from it–and to find the cancer as small and as treatable as possible. If we are going to find a cancer, we want to find it in as early stage as possible so that the treatment is much easier for the patient and the outcome is much better. The benefit of getting mammograms regularly is that we can detect subtle changes from year to year. By seeing subtle changes, we can find cancers earlier. Getting annual mammograms is crucial for the best outcome and is proven to save lives from breast cancer.

If a patient has no family history of breast cancer, do they really need annual mammograms?

Christine WalshLead Breast Specialist Christine Walsh, MD

While having a family history of breast cancer can increase a patient's risk of getting breast cancer, most breast cancers occur in people without a strong family history. About 75% of breast cancers happen in patients without a family history. So, even if you don't have a family history, you still need to be coming in for your mammogram every year.

What’s the difference between 3D mammography and a traditional mammogram?

3D mammography, or tomosynthesis, is the most advanced mammography technology available. It still uses x-ray imaging to take pictures of the breasts, but it takes multiple, very low dose x-rays at different angles so we can see the breast in a more three-dimensional view with better detail. 3D mammography helps find cancers earlier and smaller. It also helps us to be more confident when saying a mammogram is normal. The experience for the patient is the same when they get a 3D mammogram. The images are still taken very quickly and there is no increase in radiation dose. All mammography machines across the Genesis Health System are 3D and this technology is used for all our patients.

How often are patients called back for additional images after their screening mammogram?

About 10% of patients who get a regular screening mammogram are called back for additional imaging such as a more detailed mammography exam or an ultrasound. The majority of the time, we take a closer look at an area and determine it is normal. So just because a patient is asked to come back for an additional workup, does not mean they have breast cancer. In fact, most of the time they do not. However, sometimes this additional workup does find an area suspicious for cancer. In this case, we personally sit down and talk to the patient about what we are seeing and what we need to do next. Typically, if we find anything suspicious, we do a needle biopsy which is a minimally invasive way for us to determine if an area is cancer. We understand that this is a very scary thing for a patient to go through. Our job is to walk a patient through the process with care, understanding, and knowledge and we are blessed to have a wonderful team of doctors, technologists, and nurses to make this possible.

Should patients be concerned about the radiation they are exposed to during a mammogram?

One of the biggest misconceptions about mammography is the amount of radiation involved in a mammogram. People think the amount of radiation is really high but it's much less than people assume. If we can relate the amount of radiation to something else people do in their normal life, it helps patients and their physicians to think of it in a different way. The amount of radiation in a regular mammogram is the same amount of radiation as if you few on an airplane from New York to LA. People take airplane flights all the time without being worried about how much radiation exposure they're getting. It's not nothing, but it's also not something that should be a deterrent for people getting mammograms. I think that's a reason some doctors are hesitant to recommend mammograms every year. Patients who get mammograms do not have more cancer. Plus, the amount of radiation used for mammograms has significantly decreased over time with the improved technology. Remember, there is evidence that women who get yearly mammograms, starting by age 40, have a significantly lower chance of dying from breast cancer.

To schedule your annual mammogram today, fill out this form or call 563-421-3200.

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