Dr. Rachel Pahls, Women’s Imaging Radiologist with Baptist Health Breast Center
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and has always served as a time to celebrate women who have survived breast cancer. This month is also a time to increase awareness about the early detection of breast cancer and the importance of having an annual mammogram.
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Thankfully, the overall death rate from breast cancer has decreased over the past decades, and this is thought to be the result of treatment advances and earlier detection through annual screening.
About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to known inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. On average, women with these mutations have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, as well as an increased rate of ovarian cancer.
The most important screening tool for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer is annual mammography. A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that allows physicians to get a detailed look at the breast and detect any abnormalities or signs of breast cancer. While a mammogram does not prevent breast cancer, it can decrease deaths from breast cancer by 40% due to early detection allowing care at the earliest possible stage.
It is recommended that starting at the age of 40, women have an annual mammogram. As physicians, we are often asked if it is important to have an annual mammogram or if you can have one every few years.
There are many reasons why we recommend annual mammography:
- Annual screening with mammography can significantly reduce breast cancer deaths. Annual mammograms starting at age 40 can prevent a much larger number of deaths from breast cancer based on earlier detection, rather than less frequent screening.
- Each year’s mammogram will serve as a baseline for the year before. By comparing last year’s study to this year’s study, we can see any minor changes that have occurred and potentially detect cancer even earlier.
At Baptist Health, we are proud to offer the most advanced technology through the use of 3D mammography. This technology takes multiple images of the breast tissue to recreate a 3-dimensional picture of the breast. These images give us a clearer picture of breast masses or distortion and allow us to detect signs of cancer even earlier. 3D mammography is an excellent screening tool for women with dense breasts and increases the overall cancer detection rate.
ABUS (Automated Breast Ultrasound System)
At Baptist Health, we are also proud to offer automated whole breast screening ultrasound. With 3D ultrasound volume and imaging software, radiologists can review hundreds of breast tissue image slices and layers of dense breast tissue to find breast cancers. The ability and sensitivity of mammography for the detection of breast cancer in women with dense breasts (about 50% of women) is decreased. Invenia ABUS 2.o offers greater sensitivity and specificity for the detection of breast cancer, making this an excellent screening tool. Please talk to your doctor to see if this option is right for you or learn more about ABUS.
Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses radio waves and strong magnets to make detailed pictures of the inside of the breast. Breast MRI is sometimes used in women who already have been diagnosed with breast cancer, to help measure the extent of the disease and assist with staging breast cancer and detect possible breast cancer in the other breast.
However, not every woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer needs a breast MRI. MRI is an excellent screening tool for women who are at high risk for breast cancer, along with a yearly mammogram. MRI is extremely sensitive for the detection of breast cancer; however, it can also increase the chance of finding benign entities, also known as false positive, resulting in increased biopsies. Therefore, annual breast MRI is not recommended in women with an average lifetime risk of breast cancer.
Find A Way to Celebrate
Many breast cancer survivors make it their mission to save the lives of other women by encouraging them to have their annual mammogram. While many of those efforts won’t happen this year, we still encourage you to find ways to celebrate and encourage others:
- Virtual Parties: Maybe you can host a virtual party with some of your friends where you share your story and encourage others to schedule their appointment.
- Facebook Live: These posts are a great way to share your story with other women and remind them of the importance of getting annual screening.
- Sharing Information: It could even be as simple as sharing the link to this blog post on your social media and encouraging women to educate themselves on the importance of having their annual mammogram. Even if it reaches only one woman, it could make an immense lasting difference in their life.
- Support: Please help us honor women at every step of the breast cancer journey and survivorship by showing your support or sharing your story of how you or someone you love has been affected by breast cancer and encourage women who are currently facing breast cancer.
Screening Is as Important as Always
We understand that 2020 has been a challenging year for so many. Maybe you had your mammogram scheduled for the spring, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. We want to encourage you to get those rescheduled. While we all are waiting for COVID-19 to pass, breast cancer is not going to pass. Having your annual mammogram is as important as ever and we encourage you not to put it off.
Call Baptist Health Healthline at 1-888-BAPTIST (227-8478) to schedule your yearly mammogram, or request an appointment online.