Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How annual mammograms save lives |

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How annual mammograms save lives

MRH radiologist explains how routine screenings play a part in early detection and treatment of breast cancer

The Memorial Hospital at Craig.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. Fortunately, there has been progress in the early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer, and routine screenings play a significant role in saving thousands of women’s lives.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about the risk factors of breast cancer and the importance of annual mammograms. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that breast cancer was the most diagnosed cancer in Colorado in 2018, and in the same year, it was the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

According to Dr. Michael Holt, radiologist who specializes in breast imaging at Memorial Regional Health, mammograms are currently the best screening test to detect breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women with average risk begin annual mammograms starting at 40 years old; however, formal risk assessments for breast cancer can begin as young as 25.

What is a mammogram?

Mammograms are low-dose X-rays that capture internal images of a patient’s breast tissue. Traditional 2D mammography obtains a single, two-dimensional image of the breast while 3D mammography takes multiple images to recreate a three-dimensional visual of the breast. Many healthcare experts agree that 3D mammograms can provide radiologists with a clearer image of the breast, allowing for easier detection of cancers.

According to Dr. Holt, one misconception about mammograms among patients is that they do not need routine screenings if they have no family history of breast cancer. Women benefit from yearly mammograms even if they do not believe they have a family history of the disease, mostly to err on the side of caution.

Other common risk factors include:

  • Age — Most cancers are found in women older than 55.
  • Sex — Women get breast cancer more often than men.
  • Genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Reproductive history
  • Family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancers
  • Having dense breasts
  • Taking hormones
  • Lack of physical activity or being overweight/obese after menopause

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast, usually painless and hard in mass with irregular edges.

Importance of awareness and routine screenings

Although screenings may appear to be intimidating or time-consuming, MRH makes the process as comfortable and easy as possible. The goal is to help more women detect breast cancer before it progresses and becomes harder to treat.

Depending on your risk factors and personal/family history, it’s best to develop an individualized plan with your women’s health or OB/GYN provider to know when you are due for important exams and screenings. By working as a team, you’ll lower your chances of developing late-stage cancer and could increase your chance of survival.

“It’s always rewarding to receive feedback about women who have been successfully treated after an early diagnosis of breast cancer,” Dr. Holt concluded. “We truly care about our patients’ health, always treating them with the respect, compassion and kindness they deserve.”

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